Farm bill works for birds, landown­ers

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion - By Lisa Neff Staff writer

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

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