Senate’s Farm Bill Passage is Mix of Good/Bad News for Sportsmen

Sportsmen and non-profit conservation groups are cheering the U.S. Senate’s passage of the 2012 Farm Bill by a bi-partisan 63-35 vote. And while this is mostly good news for hunters and anglers, we did suffer one striking loss. Here’s how the amendments of greatest importance to sportsmen and wildlife panned out.

Surprise Win: Crop Insurance Linked to Conservation

Despite strong opposition from agricultural leaders, the Senate voted 52-47 to adopt an amendment sponsored by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) that requires farmers to adhere to certain conservation rules in order to receive federal subsidies to help pay their crop insurance.

According to Greg Schildwachter, a conservation lobbyist, the win is so huge as to suggest a fundamental change in Americans’ attitudes toward conservation.

“This means that America’s whole idea of conservation is coming around full circle: We’ve settled land to feed ourselves and the world, we’ve set aside land for conservation, and we have combined cultivation and conservation on the same lands,” he wrote in an email.

Conservation lobbyist George Cooper noted the specific importance of the amendment to sportsmen.

“This was a huge surprise victory,” he wrote in an email. “This has major, major implications for millions of acres of ag land and wetlands and clean water. It is also a rare instance in this political climate of conservation interests transcending partisanship.”

The Conservation Reserve Program

CRP did take a cut, as expected in this economic environment, but the reduction in funds was not as great as feared. CRP will continue to be funded in a manner similar to the last several years.

“Sportsmen spend $76 billion annually to hunt and fish on lands like those maintained under the Conservation Reserve Program,” said Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. “While taking a cut to programs like CRP is not easy, the Senate-passed Farm Bill maintains an efficient, effective conservation title that assists farmers and ranchers in being good stewards, boasting as it does a suite of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that no doubt will remain popular with landowners.”

The Sportsmen’s Act of 2012

In a disappointing setback for hunting and fishing rights, during negotiations to pick farm bill amendments, this bi-partisan amendment offered by Jon Tester (D-MT) and John Thune (R-SD) did not make the cut. The amendment would have benefited hunting, fishing and recreational access; funded habitat  conservation; and reauthorized previous sportsmen’s bills. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation and many other pro-sportsmen groups are continuing to work with Congressional leaders to advance pro-sportsmen’s legislation in the 112th Congress.

“Sodsaver” Amendment

This amendment to protect native prairie grasses was adopted with the final bill. Native prairie grasses are the ideal nesting habitat for upland birds and waterfowl, yet 97 percent of the native grasses in the United States have already been lost–once they’re gone, they cannot be replanted.

What now?

All eyes now turn to the U.S. House of Representatives, which has yet to release its version of the bill. We will keep you posted on the developments.

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