Speak Your Piece: Adapt, Don’t Destroy Conservation Funding

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To spend federal money more efficiently — and to save the water and the land — Congress should spend more to involve local communities in Farm Bill programs.


[imgcontainer left] [img:waystogive_-J-Salisbury_Cattle-Drive-Days-End.jpeg] [source]John Salisbury

Blackfoot Challenge in the Blackfoot Watershed of Montana has worked with local ranchers to increase participation in a carcass pick up program paid for with Farm Bill money. Increasing volunteers reduced the cost of the program by 60 percent.

Farm Bill conservation programs provide critical support to rural communities. They enable farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners to stay in business providing the food, fiber, and fuel that our nation depends on, while also ensuring the health of fish and wildlife, clean air and water, and access to recreation, open space and other benefits that are valued by all Americans, both rural and urban.

Despite overwhelming pressure from interests on both sides of the food and agriculture debate about the need for serious reforms, Congress and the Obama administration are more focused on cuts than structural changes in the current Farm Bill debate.

Providing adequate funding for many much-needed conservation, nutrition and other important programs has fallen to the wayside. The Farm Bill is seen largely as a potential source of “found revenue” — a place to make up for deficits in other areas.

We believe that Congress can stretch the limited dollars allocated to these programs if it increases investment in the provision of technical assistance and building rural community capacity.

Programs must include adequate resources for outreach and education, and helping landowners meet program objectives.  Conservation programs have enormous potential to tap into local skills, knowledge and networks across rural communities.  It’s time for Congress to recognize – and utilize – that potential.

Local Capacity is the Solution

In a time of scarce budgets and growing need, the federal government should seize the opportunity to work closely with rural communities and foster public-private partnerships. Working with community-based organizations, soil and water conservation districts, state foresters and other local partners is the best way to get conservation programs on the ground.

Examples of the good work that can be accomplished through public-private partnerships can be found across the rural West:

• In Klamath County, Oregon, the Klamath Basin Rangeland Trust (KBRT) has partnered with the Department of Agriculture to increase rancher enrollment in the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP). Working together, KBRT and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) help landowners experiment with running cattle operations under reduced irrigation or complete dryland scenarios.

here to read the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition’s recommendations for Increasing Community Capacity to Deliver Farm Bill Conservation Programs.  For a broader take on the Farm Bill’s possible impacts, see the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s “What’s at Stake in the 2012 Farm Bill” series.