The Farm Bill
The Farm Bill and its conservation components make an unmatched impact on our nation’s upland wildlife habitat and hunting access
1985 marks the beginning of the modern-day Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture and/or Food Security Acts. Agricultural policy dates to the early 1900s, but true conservation policies only emerged in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression and related conservation issues from the Dust Bowl era. Soil stabilization, water quality and commodity price control were factors in the policymaking. In the 1996 Farm Bill Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever helped make wildlife a co-equal to soil and water conservation.
The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes approximately $30 billion in conservation funding through 2023 when it will need reauthorization to continue funding the programs. The Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever team works continuously with USDA on implementation.
Why It’s Important
The Farm Bill provides conservation funding and programs that reduce soil erosion, and improve water and air quality, while creating and enhancing wildlife habitat. The legislation also increases land that may be open for public hunting and fishing access. Farm Bill funding supports the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA), three organizations that implement the full suite of Farm Bill conservation and land management programs. Each year, the suite of Farm Bill conservation programs impact 10’s of millions of acres every year.
Individual Programs within the 2018 Farm Bill
Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
Created as part of the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP provides approximately $2 billion each year for conservation on about 22 million acres. The 2018 Farm Bill increased the acreage cap from 24 million acres to 27 million. CRP offers a mix of programs that now range from 3- to 5-, 10-, 15- or 30-year contracts, depending on the type of practice. Examples include grassland, trees, windbreaks, field borders, stream buffers, pollinator plots, food plots and wetlands.
Soil Health Income Protection Program (SHIPP)
This new program for the prairie pothole states provides up to 50,000 acres and 3 to 5 years of rental payment on low-yielding soils.
Clean Lakes Estuaries And Rivers (CLEAR30)
This program created a 30-year option for practices that result in clean lakes, estuaries and rivers in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes regions.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
EQIP funding assures that at least 10 percent of its dollars are used for wildlife conservation practices. Programs within EQIP include the successful Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) program that showcases the Sage Grouse Initiative in the West, the Lesser Prairie Chicken Initiative in the Southern Great Plains, and eastern forest initiatives focused on improving habitat for bobwhite quail, the golden-winged warbler and other important wildlife.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)
The 2018 Farm Bill increased ACEP funding to $450 million per year. ACEP provides long-term and perpetual easements for farmland and critical habitat types. The Wetlands Reserve Easement Program is a key tool for long- term and perpetual easement, which often feature an upland grassland component or bottomland hardwood practice depending on region.
Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentives Program (VPA-HIP)
This program provides $50 million annually to state wildlife agencies to expand access and habitat improvement on private land for hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation. If you utilize walk-in hunting areas, thank VPA-HIP and that state’s game department.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
RCPP provides $300 million per year to leverage local, state and other non-federal funding sources to create and enhance conservation and wildlife habitat on private lands.
Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
CSP assists farmers, ranchers and landowners with existing conservation efforts while strengthening and enhancing their agriculture operation. Elements of CSP can improve grazing conditions, increase crop resiliency or develop wildlife habitat. This funding includes projects for private forestland owners for Timber Stand Improvements (TSI) and invasive vegetative species control.
North American Grasslands Conservation Act S.4639
A new North American Grasslands Conservation Act (S.4639) was introduced in the Senate in July of 2022 by Senators Ron Wyden (OR), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Michael Bennett (CO) Modeled after the popular and effective North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), it will help to kickstart the voluntary protection and restoration of North America’s grasslands and the livelihoods and wildlife that depend on them. The North American Grasslands Conservation Act recognizes and builds off the generational stewardship of farmers, ranchers, Tribal Nations, hunters, outdoor recreationists, and conservation-oriented agencies and entities and reflects a long-standing tradition of working collaboratively to conserve imperiled ecosystems across North America for the future. There is an urgency to act now to maintain grassland and sagebrush shrub-steppe systems for agriculture, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration.
The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will create a landowner- driven, voluntary, incentive-based program to conserve and restore threated grassland ecosystems
The North American Grasslands Conservation Act will:
- curtail additional conversion of native grasslands and loss of sagebrush shrub-steppe and to sustain these systems as working lands by creating a flexible, voluntary, and innovative program;
- improve grassland and rangeland health and management;
- support rancher stewards and tribal partners;
- improve biodiversity and habitat for grassland and sagebrush birds, pollinators, and other wildlife;
- increase carbon sequestration; and
- provide increased recreational and hunter access opportunities, strictly at the discretion of private landowners.
Overview of the North American Grasslands Conservation Act
- Creation of a new North American Grassland Conservation Strategy: Creates the first ever North American Grassland Conservation Strategy, drawing from and building on existing regional conservation plans and frameworks. The strategy will:
- Identify key areas with grasslands at high risk of conversion to cropland, development, invasion of annual grasses or other undesired vegetation; key areas with the highest potential of conserving native grasslands, restoring grasslands, and reducing fragmentation; and populations of grassland birds of greatest conservation need.
- Identify specific goals for increasing grassland acreage and for enhancing existing grasslands primarily through incentivizing the voluntary restoration of grasslands and the management of native prairie or sagebrush shrublands, through techniques such as advanced grazing management, prescribed fire, and invasive species management.
- Develop a tool for tracking county-level aggregated conversion of native grasslands to cropland, development, and other uses
- Authorizes a $290 million/year Grassland Conservation Grant Program: Creates a flexible and innovative grant program for voluntary, incentive-based conservation of North American Grasslands.
- Purpose is to support voluntary efforts, including on working farms and ranchlands, that support the strategies and goals identified in the North American Grassland Conservation Strategy.
- Projects can include:
- Voluntary conservation easements, including those held by land trusts
- Grassland and sagebrush restoration projects
- Voluntary incentives to producers for prescribed burns, management of invasive species, and other grazing management projects
- Outreach and technical assistance projects, including field days, grazing management training programs, conservation planning, and education and outreach around ranchland transition planning
- At least 10 percent of funds go into a separate pot of grant funding for tribes and tribal organizations along with a match waiver.
- Require a match of at least 25%, allowing for in-kind matching and providing match waiver authority for the Secretary.
- Up to 10 percent of funds may go towards grasslands conservation projects in Canada and Mexico.
- Grasslands Conservation Councils: Creates a North American Grasslands Conservation Council to recommend projects to be funded under the Act. Additionally, creates Regional Grasslands Conservation Councils for each of the regions identified in the North American Grasslands Conservation Plan. Regional Councils will inform the North American Grasslands Conservation Council and recommend projects for approval by the North American Grasslands Conservation Council.
- Native Seed Crop Systems Research: Directs USDA and DOI to implement the National Seed Strategy and increase research related to native seed crop systems.
- Regenerative Grazing Data Collection: Creates a pilot program for the use of regenerative grazing practices to mitigate the effects of climate change.
- Definition of Grasslands: For the purposes of the bill, “grasslands” includes tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass, native prairie, sagebrush shrub-steppe, savanna grasslands, glades, and other related grassland ecosystems.
- Funding: Authorizes $290 million/year for the grant program, with additional funding for program administration.
- Administration: This program will be administered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in consultation with USDA and other relevant agencies.
For more information visit the Grasslands Act Coalition website at:
With P-R, sportsmen and women voluntarily taxed themselves for better conservation practices that serve everyone, not just hunters and anglers
The Pittman-Robertson (P-R) Wildlife Restoration Act originally passed in 1937, and the related Dingell-Johnson (D-J) Sport Fish Restoration Act originally passed in 1950.
Federal P-R funds are generated through an 11 percent excise tax on all firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. P-R and D-J funding fluctuates depending on how much is produced and sold by hunting and fishing equipment manufacturers annually. $1.4 billion was the allocation in fiscal year 2022. Conservation and wildlife projects typically must receive a 25 percent match from non-federal sources, such as financial or in-kind donations from organizations such as Pheasants Forever, or state fish and wildlife agencies (which primarily use revenue generated by state hunting, fishing and trapping license fees).
Why It’s Important
P-R and D-J provide a cornerstone of financial support to state agencies for wildlife management. The P-R program is administered by the USFWS in conjunction with the Dingell-Johnson (D-J) Sport Fish Restoration Act for sport fish restoration and management. P-R and D-J have provided more than $21 billion for wildlife and sport fish management, matched by more than $7.3 billion provided by individual states. P-R/D-J funds have supported:
- Acquiring, developing and operating about 68 million acres of wildlife management and public use areas
- Conducting important wildlife research and surveys
- Building and maintaining public shooting and archery ranges
- Operating hunter education programs
- Supporting “recruit, retain and reactivate” (R3) initiatives (for example, your local chapter may be able to work with state agencies on funding an event for youth or adults interested in learning how to hunt)
North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA)
NAWCA acquires, restores, protects and creates wetlands, which are some of upland wildlife’s best friends
NAWCA was originally passed in 1989.
NAWCA is funded at about $75 million per year, depending on appropriations. Federal funds for NAWCA include a blend of general appropriations, federal account interest earned, some P-R funds, and Migratory Bird Treaty Act fines. NAWCA projects must provide at least a 1:1 match, meaning one dollar from a non-federal source must match up with every dollar of federal money allotted. Federal funds are often doubled or tripled at the local level.
Why It’s Important
NAWCA provides federal funding to leverage non-federal matching funds from state wildlife agencies and other non-profit and local conservation partners to protect, restore and manage wetland habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. Anyone who has hunted a waterfowl area or wetland complex knows that pheasants and upland wildlife thrive in those environs! To date, NAWCA has:
- Engaged more than 6,000 partners (organizations, private landowners, industry and state governments) through more than 2,833 projects to conserve wildlife habitat
- Improved nearly 30 million acres of habitat in all 50 states, Canada and Mexico
- Applied more than $1.6 billion of federal funds to leverage over $4.6 billion of other investments
Pheasants Forever recognized early on that NAWCA, wetland restoration and associated upland habitat has an impact on upland birds, as well as significant benefits to many other species. We have also had a seat on the NAWCA advisory council since 1999, being appointed in each of the last 5 US Presidents. Has been involved in NAWCA since its beginning. Due to NAWCA’s wide range of benefits, Congress has consistently shown strong bipartisan support and the program has been included in every presidential budget request since the program’s inception in 1989. NAWCA was reauthorized in October of 2020 as part of the America’s Conservation Act. The reauthorization is $300 million over 5 years.
Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA)
RAWA would fund conservation efforts on wildlife species at risk.
RAWA has passed the House and Senate ENR Committee as of September 2022.
If passed, RAWA will provide $1.4 billion in dedicated annual funding to state wildlife agencies and tribes for conservation efforts focused on recovering wildlife species at risk.
Why It’s Important
RAWA will create a much-needed permanent dedicated funding source for state wildlife agencies. If passed, we will see large-scale habitat efforts enacted that benefit pheasants, quail and all wildlife.
The coalition of RAWA supporters (including Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever) has worked for several years to pass the legislation independently. We have also looked at opportunities to pass RAWA as part of a larger conservation package. RAWA will require new conservation funding dollars from the general treasury. New spending bills can be challenging to pass but can be done and are necessary for the advancement of species conservation.
For over 30 years our community of sportsmen and sportswomen have put conservation programs in the ground that have contributed to climate resiliency. These ecosystem-based solutions have worked for pheasants, quail and all upland wildlife.
Recognizing the important environmental contributions that Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever currently make and want to enhance, we joined a group of more than 40 respected conservation organizations on a document designed for policy makers in Washington, D.C., called Sportsmen and Sportswomen’s Statement on Climate. You can read the report here.
Our intent in this process is to enhance and accelerate what we already do. We plan to engage policy makers in an effort to continue assisting farmers, ranchers and landowners in achieving conservation outcomes that enhance their operations, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and benefit wildlife … while at the same time contributing to climate resiliency. We will continue working with ag industry to bring new precision technologies and strategies to the farm, while finding mutually beneficial opportunities for wildlife habitat. Our pledge to the nation’s farmers, ranchers and policy makers: Creating burdensome regulations or inhibiting agricultural production opportunities has never been, and never will be, be part of our agenda.
Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever are science-based non-profit conservation organizations. All the available science about today’s environmental issues (water quality, soil health, wildlife habitat and climate) points to delivering the PF & QF habitat mission as a major part of the solution to these issues. These solutions involve public and especially private lands.
A nonpartisan climate discussion, both locally and nationally, is an opportunity for our organization to create wildlife habitat. By featuring grasslands along with several other conservation programs we champion, we have had and will continue to have a large impact in climate mitigation. Just like the web of life, when we create habitat for pheasants and quail, we’re also delivering water, soil, wildlife and climate benefits far beyond our beloved gamebirds.
The Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever wildlife habitat mission doesn’t change at all to address climate resiliency. The work we do already for pheasants, quail, sage grouse, prairie chickens, pollinators and monarch butterflies … and all the other upland wildlife that benefits … is critical no matter what a person does or doesn’t believe about climate change.
The habitat work we do to create brood cover for pheasants and quail since our 1982 beginnings are identical to what’s needed for a multitude of species. Restored prairie, grasslands and wetlands, along with healthy forest lands, sequester carbon. For example: It is estimated that CRP alone captures over 50 million metric tons of carbon annually. Pheasant and quail habitat can do all of this while supporting rural economies.
To that end: PF & QF believes that a fully enrolled and in fact expanded Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is essential . . . for the birds, the butterflies, the bees, water quality, soil AND climate.
Our conservation community recognizes that any comprehensive national strategy to address climate resiliency must include reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. We also believe this strategy will need to include land- and water-based solutions that harness the power of our natural systems to:
- Sequester carbon and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
- Maintain and build climate resiliency – the ability for natural systems to absorb stress and maintain function in the face of external stressors imposed upon them
- Ensure adaptive solutions such as managing natural systems for climate impacts
We support immediate actions at the federal, state, local and private levels to achieve these needed solutions. And again, we unequivocally believe our favorite wildlife habitat tool – CRP – should be a big part of this approach.
Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever have cultivated large networks of partners and volunteers with experience implementing on-the-ground projects and solutions. We know how to achieve results and have the experience to implement proven actions. Additional investments should be made in already existing programs and activities with established funding delivery systems, partner and volunteer networks, and demonstrated track records for implementation and effectiveness.
Together we can expand these programs to have a much greater impact far more quickly. In other cases, new programs and funding streams will need to be developed to capture the full extent and utility of our natural systems to sequester carbon, bolster climate resiliency, AND create habitat for pheasants, quail and all other upland wildlife.
The Hill: America's dwindling grasslands require action
Hunt Fish 30x30
In late January 2021, the President issued an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which among other things, establishes a goal of “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.”
PF/QF has a significant role to play in any “30 by 30” discussions and resulting policies. In order to make sure that the hunting and fishing community is recognized for our leadership in conservation, existing conservation efforts that benefit fish and wildlife biodiversity are counted toward the goal, and to make sure we are able to have a seat at the table, PF/QF worked cooperatively last fall to draft a hunting and fishing community statement.
Outdoor Life: President Biden’s Order to Protect 30 Percent of the Nation’s Land