Farm bill works for birds, landowners
Conservationists say provisions in the farm bill up for debate in Congress this fall assist private landowners while simultaneously helping to protect essential habitat for more than 100 species of birds.
According to the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, the farm legislation for at least two decades has provided the single largest source of conservation funding for private lands in the United States.
The NABC says these programs offer financial incentives for conservation practices, which in turn can protect natural habitat. In 2015, almost 9 million acres of wildlife habitat was improved or protected through farm bill programs.
Before 1990, for example, wetland birds and waterfowl were on the decline, trending downward by 10 percent a year. Since wetland easements were added to the farm bill, wetland birds and waterfowl populations have increased 51 percent.
Also, Kenneth V. Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the farm bill’s conservation provisions helped stabilize populations of grassland birds, which had suffered a nearly 50 percent drop before grassland easements were introduced in 2003.
“Since that time, we’ve seen an encouraging 3 percent increase in numbers,” said Rosenberg, who led a recent assessment of the correlation between private land conservation and bird populations and benefits of the farm bill.
Forest bird populations dropped 19 percent before the farm bill’s forestry title program was introduced in 1990, he observed.
A coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations and birdfocused partnerships worked to complete the assessment, which says past farm bills:
Promoted public-private partnerships and supported restoration vital to forest birds. In the South, for example, farm bill programs increased longleaf pine forests by 50 percent, providing habitat and keeping forests from being converted to other uses.
Protected prairie grasslands and wetlands that sustain waterfowl. For example, on private lands in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 34 percent of food energy for ducks — especially wood ducks, Northern pintails and mallards — comes from wetlands protected through the farm bill.
“The 2018 farm bill will hopefully build