A Farm Bill for Landowners and Birds

(Washington, D.C., August 3, 2017) Thirty-seven million. That’s the increase in the number of waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region over the past quarter-century, thanks to the Farm Bill. The State of the Birds 2017 report, released today by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), documents the many benefits the Farm Bill—America’s single largest source of conservation funding for private lands—has delivered to birds, farmers, and rural communities.

For more than three decades, the Farm Bill has been an effective tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 species. For farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, the bill provides a safety net that helps keep working lands from being developed. As the 2018 Farm Bill is debated for reauthorization in Congress, the report calls attention to the benefits of investing in conservation on private lands, which make up nearly 70 percent of the land area in the contiguous United States.

It’s a striking record of success. Before 1990, for instance, wetland birds and waterfowl were on the decline, trending downward by 10 percent a year. Since wetland easements were added to the Farm Bill, those populations have soared 51 percent.

State of the Birds is a regular report published by NABCI’s US Committee, a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships. Scientists, government agencies, and bird conservation groups use the State of the Birds as a resource in decision-making about conservation research, policies, and programs. Last year, NABCI’s State of North America’s Birds Report found that more than one-third of North America’s bird species require urgent conservation action.

 

Farm Bill programs support many kinds of partnerships with private landowners. As documented in the 2017 report, that approach pays off in many ways. Here are a few examples of what the Farm Bill gets done:

  • It keeps birds off the Endangered Species List. Voluntary, incentive-based habitat-restoration projects funded by the Farm Bill made it possible to avoid listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as endangered in 2015.
  • It promotes public-private partnerships and supports restoration vital to forest birds. In the South, Farm Bill Forestry programs have increased longleaf pine forests by 50 percent, providing valuable habitat and keeping forests from being converted to other uses.
  • It protects vital prairie grasslands and wetlands and sustains North American waterfowl. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 34 percent of all duck food energy comes from Farm Bill wetlands.
  • It creates eco-benefits for the entire farm and delivers return on investment in clean water and birds. Farm Bill grasslands programs improve soil health and natural pest control, provide flood control and water purification, and recharge groundwater supplies.

State of the Birds 2017 also identifies four top conservation priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill, representing the unified voice of NABCI’s broad coalition:

  • Increase funding for the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that support farmers and ranchers financially while also supporting our natural infrastructure of grasslands and wetlands.
  • Improve the impact of Farm Bill conservation programs on priority wildlife species, drawing on input from individual states.
  • Enhance Farm Bill public-private partnerships. Partner biologist positions hold the key to matching landowners with conservation programs that best fit the landowners’ wildlife and land-use goals.
  • Support the use of science, including monitoring and evaluation of Farm Bill conservation programs over time, to maximize the bill’s effectiveness and return on investment. 

The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a coalition of 28 federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships that advance biological, social, and scientific priorities for North American bird conservation.