Conservation Reforms Needed to Protect Environment and Drinking Water

New EWG analysis Highlights Ways to Modernize Land Restoration Program

Washington, D.C. – A new analysis by Environmental Working Group underscores the need to reform the nation’s primary land restoration program for long-term protection of wetlands, prairies and other lands that protect drinking water and wildlife habitat.

Much of the land that had been protected under the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is being plowed under when short-term rental contracts with the government expire, the EWG analysis shows.

“The reality is that the nation’s primary prairie and wetlands protection program was not designed to meet the environmental challenges being created by record prices for farm commodities,” said Craig Cox, EWG’s Senior Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “Cropland that had been ‘restored’ with grasses and trees is increasingly being plowed under again to grow crops as soon as the rental agreements expire.”

Between 2006 and 2012, 14 million acres that had been protected by CRP likely went under the plow again as the agreements between landowners and the U.S. Department of Agriculture expired. EWG estimates that taxpayers paid landowners at least $6.6 billion to rent and restore these 14 million acres to grasses and trees for a 10-year period.  But, the conservation benefits and wildlife habitat protections of taxpayers’ investment have proved to be fleeting, EWG found.

By contrast, lands that were restored through long-term agreements through a similar but much smaller program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have provided more permanent benefits – at comparable cost to the taxpayer. Similarly, land restored through enrollment in certain special CRP initiatives and through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program has also been less likely to be plowed under when rental contracts expire, EWG’s research found.

The report concludes that important changes must be made to CRP in the 2013 farm bill to withstand the current economic incentives to plow up every available acre. In particular, lawmakers should focus future CRP enrollment through special initiatives that provide long-term environmental benefits. Landowners should have the option to protect their land through both long-term and permanent easements, EWG said.

“These targeted reforms will deliver longer lasting environmental benefits and provide a greater return on investment for taxpayers,” Cox said.


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