September 13, 2009 in Outdoors

Feds hold CRP hearing, ask public for comment

Pheasants Forever says CRP critical for wildlife, but program in doubt
By The Spokesman-Review

Pheasant hunting in South Dakota has become a huge economic boost thanks to habitat generated by CRP, officials say.
(Full-size photo)

A potion of the federal Farm Bill that’s as important to wildlife and sportsmen as it is to farmers is in the spotlight this week.

Spokane is the first of nine cities across the country selected for meetings to get public comments on changes the 2008 Farm Bill has made to the Conservation Reserve Program.

The Spokane meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, in the Hilton Garden Inn at Spokane Airport.

Among other things, the meeting will cover CRP enrollment terms involving 32 million acres.

Public comments at the meeting “will help USDA decision-makers and the public with an analysis of the environmental benefits and potential impacts associated with implementing various changes to CRP,” said Chris Bieker, outreach coordinator for the Farm Service Agency in Spokane.

Wildlife enthusiasts have a stake at the meetings, said Bob St. Pierre, national spokesman for Pheasants Forever.

“We have reached the most critical juncture in the history of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, undoubtedly the most successful conservation program in modern times,” he said, noting that CRP has been credited huge increases in many species, including birds, deer and waterfowl.

“Since 2005, over 4.2 million acres enrolled in CRP have expired, and over the next five years, another 21 million more acres are slated to expire.”

USDA has no current plans for new sign-up to re-enroll or replace expiring acres, he said.

“The stated intent of this public comment period is to find ways to make the Conservation Reserve Program more effective for producers, and increase the environmental and wildlife benefits of the program,” said Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever vice president of government affairs, “Those goals are unachievable without a new CRP general sign-up.”

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