Make the Farm Bill Better for Wildlife: Tell Our Elected Leaders Now!

Do you care about wildlife and the environment? If so, nothing is more important now than the 2018 Farm Bill!

Farm Bill programs and practices have more impact (negatively or positively) on wildlife habitat in Kansas and many parts of the Great Plains than any other governmental actions.  

Three members of the Kansas Congressional Delegation are in key positions. They are working on the 2018 Farm Bill NOW. Contact them and make your voice heard: 

Sen. Roberts
DC: 202-224-4774
Ag Aide: Robert Rosado - Robert_Rosado@ag.senate.gov
Office Aide: Will Stafford - Will_Stafford@roberts.senate.gov

Sen. Jerry Moran
DC: 202-224-6521
Ag Aide: Judd Gardner - Judd_Gardner@moran.senate.gov

Rep. Roger Marshall
1st Dist. DC: 202-225-2715
Ag Aide: Dalton Henry - Dalton.Henry@mail.house.gov

Mention the following three key points (detailed explanations below). Copy and paste this text into your email or modify it as you wish. Explain that the three major improvements to the 2018 Farm Bill we are requesting include: 

  • Authorization for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) should be increased from 24 million acres to 35 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill with additional directives to target restoration of critical habitats for imperiled wildlife. 
  • The Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) as previously administered by NRCS in Kansas should be reauthorized. It was a highly successful program designed to preserve native rangelands and prairie grasslands in perpetuity. Approximately 48,318 acres were protected by easement contracts with this voluntary conservation program. The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) included in the 2014 Farm Bill was designed as a replacement for the GRP, but it does not have sufficient appeal or application, and is not sufficiently valuable in protection of native grasslands in Kansas. Although funds were allocated, there have been no ACEP applications in Kansas in the past two years.
  • Designation of 5 percent of Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding for Wildlife Habitat enhancement should be retained and a special provision added that this practice be extended for "up to ten years" and not limited to 3 years like other EQIP practices. Unlike most EQIP practices, many wildlife habitat establishment or enhancement practices require significantly more than three years to aid in the recovery of imperiled species. We therefore request that payments for management of imperiled species be extended to be "up to ten years" and not be limited to the three-year limitation appropriate for most other EQIP practices. 
 Lesser Prairie-chickens and many other prairie species have benefitted from CRP, GRP, and EQIP wildlife practices

Lesser Prairie-chickens and many other prairie species have benefitted from CRP, GRP, and EQIP wildlife practices

The following sections expand on these three requests: 

Restore Acreage Authorization for CRP.

We believe that authorization for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) should be increased from 24 million acres to 35 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill with additional directives to target restoration of critical habitats for imperiled wildlife.  The need for more conservation on the land has become more acute as natural prairie and other habitats have continued to be converted at an alarming rate to cultivate lands and/or for other purposes in recent years.  This is particularly troubling in the Great Plains and Midwestern states, where grassland birds are the community of birds in steepest decline and where many other wildlife species are increasingly at-risk. Habitat restoration, enhancement and protection within farm and ranch landscapes are the only way to keep many wildlife populations from edging even closer to becoming potential candidates for listing as federal and/or state threatened or endangered species.  Renewed emphasis on CRP practices is one of the best partnership programs with landowners to provide habitat.

Reduction of the authorized acreage for CRP from 39 million to 24 million in recent Farm Bills resulted in tragic losses of ecological resources. In addition to the extensive habitat losses, and the federal and individual investments made in establishment of the native grasslands and other beneficial vegetative covers, CRP reduced siltation of streams and reservoirs, improved water quality, conserved soil, benefited agricultural commodity prices, and revenues for state wildlife agencies and local businesses and communities.

With geographic targeting and proper habitat design and management, CRP practices can play a major role in reversing the population decline of Lesser Prairie-chickens, and other grassland birds and wildlife. It can be an important component in recovery and in sustaining populations of Northern Bobwhite Quail, other game and nongame species in the rural landscape. CRP may also offer the best opportunity to provide substantial acreages of pollinator habitat-thereby benefiting species of greatest conservation concern including Monarch Butterflies, and a diverse array of other native butterflies and bees. CRP contracts can help to provide otherwise rare and declining habitats.

 CRP fields are beneficial for pollinating insects. Photo by Ron Klataske

CRP fields are beneficial for pollinating insects. Photo by Ron Klataske

In addition to CRP practices that have proven to be beneficial to wildlife and other ecological values of great public interest, we offer several observations and recommendations for additional refinements. CRP applications should be ranked higher and ideally incentivized with bonus payments and/or included in part within the CRP acreage when these areas are combined with and adjacent to other naturally occurring habitat that has been maintained by landowners. As an example, it should be recognized that upland bird field buffers are often of greater value for game birds and songbirds when these grassland/forb and shrub habitats are adjacent to brushy draws, wooded watercourses or woodlands, and fencerows. Existing complementary habitats do not require any federal cost-share for establishment. Unfortunately, these habitats are under constant threat of being destroyed.

As an illustration of the pressures, one only needs to view the recent article, "Clear Fencerows, Find Money" in Successful Farming at Agriculture.com. Although the author suggested that he viewed old fencerows as a "menace," they are in fact vital habitats for Bobwhite Quail, many songbirds and native pollinators, and serve as refugi for many native plants eliminated from cultivated lands. CRP can help to preserve biodiversity and prevent our rural lands from becoming ecologically sterile landscapes. 

Funding for expanded CRP acreage should be regarded as an investment that will reduce costs for commodity subsidies of various kinds, restoration of federal reservoirs that otherwise require more sediment removal, programs to improve water quality, and last-chance measures needed to restore wildlife populations.

There are currently 2.1 million acres enrolled in CRP practices in Kansas. However, 1,312,307 acres are scheduled to expire within the next five years starting with expiration of 91,284 acres on October 1 this year.  The potential loss of more than 1.3 million acres of critical habitat for grassland species would be an astronomical tragedy.

Funding for reinstatement of the CRP could be covered by reducing taxpayer subsidies for federal crop insurance--a program that has contributed to conversion of millions of acres of native habitat and even marginal lands to cultivation--from 62 percent to 50 percent.

 CRP practices include restoration of rare and declining habitats. Photo by Ron Klataske

CRP practices include restoration of rare and declining habitats. Photo by Ron Klataske

Re-establish the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) for Native Grasslands.

We believe that the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP) as previously administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Kansas was a highly successful program designed to keep native rangelands and prairie/grasslands in place in perpetuity.  Approximately 48,318 acres were protected in 87 easement contracts with this voluntary conservation program.  However, since GRP was not included in the 2014 Farm Bill, as previously designed, very few easements of native grassland have been added in Kansas.  Few acres have been added under the Agriculture Land Easement (ACE) element of the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program.  

In light of the fact that millions of acres of native grasslands have been converted to croplands in recent years due in large part in response to commodity and crop insurance subsidies and governmental mandates for Ethanol and biofuels, it is imperative that Congress reinstate programs to protect natural ecosystems and critical habitats.  The GRP was one of the most effective programs in Kansas.  ACEP, as included in the last farm bill, dovetails better with some of the states that have greater concerns about the impact of suburban sprawl destroying productive farmlands and have complementary funding sources to better utilize ACEP.

 Scenic native prairie/ranchland protected with a conservation easement in the Flint Hills. Photo by Ron Klataske

Scenic native prairie/ranchland protected with a conservation easement in the Flint Hills. Photo by Ron Klataske

Retain the 5 Percent "Reserve" Target for Wildlife Habitat Expenditures in the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Extend the Life of Critical Contracts for Imperiled Species.

Although the State of Kansas has not kept up with other states that more fully utilize the 5 percent funding earmarked for wildlife habitat enhancement on private land through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, we believe that the EQIP funding allocation for this purpose should be retained in the 2018 Farm Bill. The program can be improved to make it more applicable in the Great Plains, and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism can do more to make it more applicable to more landowners.

Approximately $20 million is allocated annually for the EQIP practices in Kansas. About $900,000 of this has been available for on-the-land wildlife habitat enhancement practices, although only about a third of the funding has been utilized. 


One of the reasons is because many of the wildlife habitat restoration practices do not directly enhance farm or ranch financial rewards as do many other EQIP practices. The designation of 5 percent of Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding for Wildlife Habitat enhancement was an appropriate consideration when the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program was eliminated, and should be retained. However, unlike most EQIP practices many land management practices for wildlife require significantly more than three years to establish recovery of imperiled species. We request that payments for management of imperiled species be extended to up to ten years and not be limited to the three-year limitation appropriate for most other practices.

Recent experience with the EQIP national landscape initiative for Lesser Prairie-chicken further illustrates the problem of limited appeal to landowners. The 129,400-acre cap for the Lesser Prairie-chicken CRP habitat program with 10 to 15-year contracts available in Kansas was fully utilized with applications exceeding 155,000. However, not a single EQIP contract was signed by NRCS and the $518,000 allocation will be returned to headquarters. That failure does not help to recover this imperiled species to target population levels.

--Ron Klataske


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This article was Originally published as an AOK e-News alert. Subscribe to our email newsletter to stay up-to-date and informed.