Walk on the Wild Side

Brad Harvey: Farm bill a victory for sportsmen

February 6, 2014 

Just a few days back, the U.S. House of Representatives gave passage to the 2014 Farm Bill, passing it along to the Senate, where it is expected to move through with ease before being signed by President Barack Obama.

As is the case with most legislation, the general public doesn’t know much about it, but let’s take a quick look at what’s included in the package that’s a huge win for sportsmen.

Funding and compliance

Most folks have heard stories of how the federal government writes checks to farmers and corporations for various subsidies.

Never before, however, has a farm bill included provisions where funding for conservation was greater than the amount being pumped into those subsidies.

Well, believe it or not, it does now!

As if that part isn’t welcome news enough, there is compliance language built into the farm bill that ties conservation directly to the working efforts of the farm, affecting things such as rates for federal crop insurance. This takes away the previous incentive for those large Midwestern farmers to plant on every speck of their ground, even if the land had poor soil or wasn’t suited for it, because the government was going to pay for their loss. That won’t be happening anymore.

To a degree, conservation compliance has been written in since the farm bill of 1985, requiring farmers who accepted funding for participating in programs such as Wetland Reserve and Conservation Reserve to prove that what they were doing was a conservation benefit.

The 2014 Farm Bill takes those compliance efforts much further.

This program will take place in six states – North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota – and will give farmers in the prairie states good reason to keep parts of their land in its natural state, especially in areas with highly erosive soils.

The bill eliminates the subsidies those farmers would have received had they planted the property instead.

Sod Saver will have conservation benefits for native wildlife that were nothing more than a “pipe dream” in the past, and experts agree that its inclusion is a huge win.

On the face of it, this new legislation sounds like it’s decimating the Conservation Reserve Program, widely known simply as CRP. By digging a little deeper, it’s pretty easy to see that this is not the case.

This program pays landowners a small fee per acre to leave land growing in native grasses as opposed to farming it. Under the new bill, funding for the program will decrease about $6 million, dropping the amount of land that could be included from 32 million acres to 24 million acres.

That shouldn’t be a problem, however, since the total acreage currently enrolled is only 17 million. Thus, there’s still room for growth.

Access for the outdoorsman

Landowners once again will find good reason to open their property to hunters and fisherman; $40 million will be provided to states via the Open Fields Program, from which they’ll pay landowners an access fee for such recreation.

Before prior funding was exhausted, many states, including Kansas, North Dakota and Montana, had great success in this regard.

I’m quite familiar with the program in Kansas, known as WIHA for Walk-In Hunting Access, and it goes far beyond what we’re used to here with our Wildlife Management Areas. I’d love to see South Carolinians open up to this.

Support for the bill is far-reaching and includes most every notable conservation organization and related group. These include Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Delta Waterfowl, the Quality Deer Management Association, the Archery Trade Association, the Boone and Crockett Club, the Bowhunting Preservation Alliance, Catch-A-Dream, Mississippi River Trust, the Mule Deer Foundation, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Pheasants Forever, the Pope and Young Club, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Texas Wildlife Association, Wildlife Forever, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Masters of Foxhounds Association, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Wildlife Mississippi, the Ruffed Grouse Society, the North American Grouse Partnership, the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Forest Service Retirees, the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, Conservation Force and Quail Forever.

It appears to me that the 2014 Farm Bill tweaks and improves everything good about the previous legislation and adds plenty of improvements that all hunters and fishermen should be quite pleased to see. Hopefully it will glide on through, as expected.

Friend to the outdoors

At this point, everyone knows of the recent passing of former S.C. Rep. Herbert Kirsh, and there are few in these parts who don’t have at least one story to tell of his efforts to help them in some way.

What many don’t know, however, is what a great friend Herb was to those of us who enjoy the great outdoors. If it weren’t for his hard work, it’s quite likely that both of our local public hunting grounds, the Draper Wildlife Management Area and Worth Mountain Wildlife Management Area, wouldn’t exist at all.

In 2007, Kirsh was honored for these efforts by having the 356-acre Turkey Creek Tract of Draper renamed the Herbert Kirsh Wildlife Management Conservation Area, a fitting tribute for the man that made its mere existence possible.

This is especially true considering such lands are open to public use by every man, woman or child, and “every man” is exactly who he worked tirelessly for throughout the years.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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