Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever issued a formal letter to the United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today requesting an extension to the current general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup. The current CRP signup is the first of its kind since 2016 and has the opportunity to enroll as many as 8 million acres of the country’s most environmentally sensitive lands into America’s most successful conservation program. Unfortunately, the signup that started on December 9th and is slated to close on February 28th
has been mired in confusion and technical difficulties at the local level despite high farmer, rancher, and landowner demand to enroll.
“Local USDA offices were handcuffed for the first six weeks of the signup,” explained Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s vice president of government affairs. “Local USDA folks were not given the tools to succeed with this signup until mid-January. Computer software systems weren’t ready, trainings weren’t completed involving the complexities of the many changes to the Environmental Benefits Index scoring system, there have been inconsistencies surrounding reductions to soil rental rates, there’s been a lack of direction about mid-contract management acres, and a whole host of other factors leading to USDA offices turning away landowners coming to enroll in the CRP.”
These issues with the program come at a critical time for America’s struggling agricultural economy, wildlife populations, and natural resources. Wildlife populations and rural communities have been supported by the program since the mid-1980’s when President Ronald Reagan signed CRP into law on December 23, 1985. The CRP reached peak enrollment in 2007 with 36.8 million acres, corresponding with modern-day highs for upland bird populations. Unfortunately, the program has eroded over the last decade to a modern low of only 22 million acres enrolled today, and a subsequent precipitous decline in pheasants, quail, pollinators, monarchs, songbirds, and other grassland-dependent wildlife.
Our nation’s water quality, soil health, and rural economies have also suffered with the loss of these CRP acres that annually generated an infusion of bird hunting-related tourism each autumn. In fact, upland bird hunting has shown to be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars with most of that economic impact supporting small rural communities. In South Dakota in particular, pheasant hunting during peak CRP years provided in excess of $230 million in economic impact across the state’s rural areas annually.
During the 2018 Farm Bill, the CRP cap was raised from 24 million to 27 million acres. With current expiring acres and the addition of 3 million new acres, there is opportunity for 8 million acres during this current general CRP signup. In fact, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue stated in a December 2019 press release that, “the [CRP] program marks its 35-year anniversary in 2020, and we’re hoping to see one of our largest signups in many years.”
“It’s incredibly frustrating for America’s farmers, ranchers, landowners, and hunters,” added Nomsen. “The Conservation Reserve Program has been the crown jewel of America’s private lands programs supported by hunters for four decades. CRP is at a tipping point right now and we recommend USDA extend the current signup and provide necessary outreach to applicants ensuring a successful signup. Landowner interest appears to be high and it’s critical for Secretary Perdue to extend the signup period to mitigate the confusion of the first six weeks.”
As a result of the challenges encountered during the early weeks of the signup, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever believes an extension is critical for local USDA offices to accommodate farmer, rancher, and landowner interest. In the meantime, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever encourage landowners interested in the CRP to revisit their local USDA Service Centers or their local Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Farm Bill Biologist.
Additionally, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever, in partnership with USDA, will be visiting with landowners all weekend at National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Minneapolis. Landowners interested in CRP are invited to attend the event’s Landowner Habitat Help Desk for a one-on-one conversation with a biologist about local, state, and federal conservation options, including the current general CRP signup.
About Pheasants Forever
, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever
, is the nation's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 135,000 members and 740 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Since creation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has spent $900 million on 551,000 habitat projects benefiting 19 million acres nationwide.