Agriculture and the Farm Bill
Eighty percent of threatened and endangered species rely on privately-owned land for their habitat needs. The majority of this land is managed by farmers, ranchers and forest landowners, and the actions taken on those lands have a big impact on the health of ecosystems. This makes policies and programs for private lands, like federal agricultural policy, an extremely important part of our work to protect wildlife.
On February 7, 2014 President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law. While the biggest ticket items in the Farm Bill are for crop subsidies and food assistance for the hungry, the Farm Bill also provides critical funding for conservation programs that help farmers protect wildlife habitat, safeguard streams and wetlands, and reduce the environmental impact of farming. This represents the single largest federal investment in conservation on private lands.
Defenders won several changes in federal programs that encourage landowners to protect and restore wildlife. For example, this Farm Bill includes a Conservation Compliance provision, which requires farmers to take basic conservation measures on their land in order to be eligible for crop insurance premium subsidies. Our conservation coalition won the fight to reinstate conservation compliance as an important cornerstone of agricultural policy. Unfortunately, the very tough budget climate meant that conservation program funding took a big hit in this bill. Our various publications outline ways that these conservation programs can maintain maximum effectiveness for wildlife and habitats even in the face of these cuts.
In addition to our work on the Farm Bill, our staff in California are working with partners to ensure the viability of California’s farms and ranches while also protecting wildlife habitat. This work has included restoring forests, grasslands, vernal pools and other habitats vital to endangered and threatened species.