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U.S. National Debt:

Conservation That Counts

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

The best way to ensure that we continue to have clean water and air, productive soil and healthy habitat for wildlife is by working cooperatively with property owners to promote conservation.  Collaborative conservation efforts result in lasting commitment to real improvements.  These voluntary efforts are preferable to heavy-handed, blunt regulations that result in little actual improvement.

It would be hard to argue the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been successful in recovering species.  However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the agency charged with administering the ESA, has had success using voluntary tools and programs to prevent listings.  By working with landowners on voluntary agreements like Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances or Habitat Conservation Plans for listed species, USFWS is providing tools to protect habitat without resorting to fines or takings.  The Partners for Wildlife program is one of its more successful efforts.  This program works in partnership with landowners to implement voluntary conservation measures that benefit wildlife. 

The Farm Bill, which establishes national agricultural policy, is also the largest environmental bill in our country.  It provides assistance for conservation on private lands that results in public benefits.  The bill funds conservation practices that improve water quality and establish wildlife habitat.  Further, it facilitates easements that protect important agricultural lands that serve as open space and prevent fragmentation of habitat.  To improve landowner use of conservation easements, during debate over the 2012 Senate version of the Farm Bill, I won unanimous approval of an amendment that would protect farmers and ranchers by specifically naming them, not federal officials, as the entity holding easements.  Through voluntary, incentive-based measures, the farm bill programs provide win-win tools, making it one of the most important, if often unrecognized, environmental stewardship statutes. 

These examples of collaborative efforts stimulate conservation at the local level, with support of local communities, and result in tangible improvements.  I have long advocated that results are the best measurement of conservation program effectiveness.  Citing the number of fines or permits granted pales in comparison to reporting actual resource improvements.  For this reason, I have found voluntary, incentive-based measures are the best way to realize environmental gains.    

I will continue to promote the cooperative approaches to promoting conservation.  It is also important that conservation efforts are evaluated and quantified.  I have been a long-time proponent of solid accounting of the impacts of the conservation programs.  Regardless of our nation's current economic standing, we must ensure that our resources are appropriately spent and achieve results.  As the former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee that has jurisdiction over U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, I promoted the development of an effort to quantify the actual impacts of conservation programs as part of the 2002 Farm Bill.  That resulted in the multi-agency Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) to measure the environmental benefits of agricultural conservation programs.  As a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I am continuing to exercise oversight over the EPA and USFWS to measure the effectiveness of their efforts.

As a sportsman and grandfather, I place tremendous value on the protection of our natural resources.  Through the promotion of effective conservation and the rigorous analysis of conservation approaches, we can realize environmental protections and gains without crippling businesses and impacting job creation. 

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