Friday, June 22, 2012

Senate Passes Farm Bill, Sportsmen Urge House to Follow Suit

WASHINGTON - The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and other leaders in the sportsman-conservation community commended the U.S. Senate for its vote giving final passage to the Farm Bill, the wide-ranging legislation that represents the largest federal investment in agricultural and private lands conservation in the nation.

"Thanks to Senators Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts, who forged bipartisan agreement under trying budgetary circumstances, and to Majority Leader Senator Reid and Minority Leader McConnell advancing today's vote, we are one step closer toward finalizing a new Farm Bill," said Steve Kline, director of the TRCP Center for Agricultural and Private Lands. "The Senate Farm Bill invokes sportsmen's values, helps sustain fish and wildlife habitat and makes the conservation title more user friendly and more efficient."

Voting on 73 amendments to the massive bill - narrowed down by Senate leaders from a list of more than 300 that had been proposed - began on Tuesday afternoon and continued during a marathon session that concluded this afternoon.

Notable amendments approved by the Senate include a measure re-linking conservation compliance and crop insurance, which was introduced by Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and passed in a close 52-47 vote. The amendment helps ensure that taxpayer funds support sustainable and environmentally friendly farming practices. In addition to the "sodsaver" provision already included in the bill, it will strengthen the farm safety net by focusing crop production on traditionally productive acres.

With the Senate Farm Bill now finalized, all eyes now turn to the House of Representatives, which has yet to release its version of the bill.

"Waiting only increases budget pressures, while rural landscapes continue to be diminished and fish and wildlife populations and the economies they support suffer," said Jennifer Mock Schaeffer, Farm Bill coordinator for the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies. "The Farm Bill has helped conserve and enhance millions of acres of fish and game habitat, and we urge the House to follow the Senate's lead and finalize its version of the bill without delay."

"Sportsmen spend $76 billion annually to hunt and fish on lands like those maintained under the Conservation Reserve Program," said Dave Nomsen, vice president of government affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "While taking a cut to programs like CRP is not easy, the Senate-passed Farm Bill maintains an efficient, effective conservation title that assists farmers and ranchers in being good stewards, boasting as it does a suite of voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that no doubt will remain popular with landowners. Given the value of these programs, the need for the House to move forward swiftly in passing its own Farm Bill cannot be overstated."

"American hunters and anglers must work diligently to ensure that Congress continues to press forward in finalizing the new Farm Bill - and that critical conservation program functions are maintained," said Russ Schnitzer, agricultural policy advisor for Trout Unlimited. "As the single-largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands in our country, the conservation title of the Farm Bill is one of our most valuable tools to bolster fish and wildlife, sustain important habitat and uphold outdoor opportunities in partnership with agricultural producers across the country."

Three sportsmen's bills introduced as possible amendments to the Farm Bill were determined not germane and not included in measures voted upon by the Senate. The future of these bills is unclear at this time.