Today, America continues to grapple with how best to ensure future generations have access to abundant natural resources while evaluating global warming mitigation strategies such as cap and trade and additional environmental regulations. April 22 is Earth Day—an appropriate time to reflect on federal programs that improve the environment the right way, through incentives rather than mandates.
I was fortunate to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, where I acted as Ranking Member on the Subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit during the writing of the 2008 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill invested more than $4 billion in new spending in incentive-based conservation programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the newly renamed Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP).
These programs benefit everyone, resulting in clean air, exceptional water quality by global standards, and fertile soil that provides an abundant food supply and is further leveraged for purposes like carbon sequestration. Through EQIP, conservation practices have been applied to 145 million acres nationwide. In Idaho, EQIP and WHIP have helped stabilize nearly eight miles of the Coeur d’Alene River’s banks that were eroding contaminated soil into the river system. EQIP has assisted grain and dry pea farmers in Latah County reduce soil erosion and improve soil health. EQIP is also behind a pilot project on the Weiser River Watershed to address conservation concerns including sage grouse habitat on rangeland. In Caribou County, WHIP has helped restore Trout Creek, addressing sedimentation, nutrient, wildlife habitat, and altered stream channel issues. There are 2,155 permanent GRP acres under easements in Idaho, and 558,454 CSP contract acres in fourteen Idaho counties. CRP-enrolled land will likely reduce soil erosion by 400 million tons annually nationwide. Landowners, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service employees and conservation partners are working together to advance these and other important projects.
The 2008 Farm Bill also includes a new program: the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). AWEP assists agriculture producers with water quantity and quality enhancements. Given the significant water challenges in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, I worked to include this region as an important program area. AWEP is in its initial stages of implementation, and Idahoans have put considerable interest and effort into submitting competitive proposals.
Also, since the majority of threatened and endangered species live on private land, the best way to improve conditions for these species is by assisting private landowners with enhancing habitat. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I worked with my colleagues to include a provision in the tax title of the Farm Bill establishing a deduction for site-specific management measures in Endangered Species Act recovery plans.
With efforts to fully implement Farm Bill conservation programs underway, I rejoined the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) Committee this Congress. The EPW Committee is involved in discussions regarding global climate change mitigation legislation. Agricultural producers and forest landowners must be included as key partners in any solution. Efforts they undertake to improve land, water and air quality must be properly recognized and encouraged.
While environmental improvement efforts continue, we must not lose sight of what is working. Rather than recreating and increasing environmental mandates, we can take lessons from Farm Bill conservation programs and ESA incentives that improve our environment through landowner involvement. These programs and environmental achievements should be our guide. While Earth Day serves as a call to better care for our incredible natural resources, part of that celebration should be favorable reflections on successful environmental conservation efforts.
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