USDA will pursue offering incentives to farmers and ranchers for opening up their land in the Conservation Reserve Program to the public for hunting, fishing, bird watching and other recreational activities, according to USDA Secretary Ed Schafer. Schafer made the announcement at the White House Conference on North American Wildlife Policy today in Reno.
"The President is committed to enhancing support of habitat conservation by offering public access to Conservation Reserve Program land," Schafer said in a release. "The Conservation Reserve Program is the largest public-private partnership for conservation and wildlife habitat in the nation and we expect robust participation in this initiative. It will provide better access and allow more efficient management of game populations while allowing CRP participants to continue to provide vital environmental benefits such as improving air and water quality, enhancing wildlife habitat and reducing erosion."
USDA wants to double public access by providing up to 7 million acres of CRP land for public access in the next 5 years in participating states. The CRP public access incentive permits partnerships with existing state public access programs to identify and mark tracts of land as publicly accessible and publish maps for hunters and recreation enthusiasts. The incentive is consistent with current state public access incentives and will enhance the ability of state game departments to use hunting seasons as a wildlife management tool.
The CRP public access incentive will be limited to CRP participants in the 21 states that already have public access programs. These 21 states are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. The public access incentive will pay $3 per acre, per year, for the life of the CRP contract, provided the contract acres remain enrolled in the state public access program. This incentive will be available to CRP participants with new or existing CRP contracts.
This public access incentive is available to CRP participants that voluntarily agree to open CRP land to public hunting, recreation, wildlife viewing and other recreational activities.
Meanwhile, USDA released results of a study which shows that the conservation programs it operates provide benefits on more than 5 million acres of wetland and adjacent grassland habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region.
Here's a link to read more about the study.
The study quantified how the establishment and management of prairie wetlands and associated grasslands through the CRP and WRP have positively influenced ecosystem services in the following ways:
- Improvement in sediment and nutrient control. Soil loss was reduced on 682,048 acres of upland CRP and WRP land by an estimated average of 1.9 million tons per year. If these annual soil loss reductions remain unchanged, it is estimated that more than 23 million tons of soil have been saved since the acres were enrolled in CRP and WRP.
- Potential to intercept and store precipitation that would contribute to downstream flooding. Wetland catchments would intercept precipitation on approximately 1.1 million acres of CRP and WRP lands.
- Improvement in wetland and upland plant community quality and richness.
- Potential to sequester atmospheric carbon in soil and vegetation. Wetland catchments on CRP and WRP lands can potentially sequester an estimated 244,960 tons of soil organic carbon.