Senate Passes 2013 Farm Bill, Faces Tough Challenge in House

Senate Passes 2013 Farm Bill, Faces Tough Challenge in House
The 2013 Farm Bill could help maintain wetlands conservation programs for years to come. (Photo by Brad Guisaola)

The U.S. Senate passed a five-year farm bill on Monday that could benefit hunters for generations to come. The 2013 Farm Bill, which passed by 66-27 vote, includes a title that includes a national Sodsaver program and extra federal crop insurance assistance, according to a press release from Ducks Unlimited, and would additionally streamline conservation programs and trim the budget in the process.

Both measures, the organization said, would help preserve the nation's wetlands and grasslands by preventing soil erosion, maintaining clean waters and maintaining a stable habitat for wildlife. The bill will cost $905 billion over the next 10 years, cutting $24 billion from current spending levels.

"A national Sodsaver program and re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance are tremendous steps forward in slowing the devastating trend of wetland and grassland habitat loss," Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall said in the press release. "Our nation is currently experiencing a rate of wetland and native prairie loss not seen since the Dust Bowl. These proactive programs will benefit humans and wildlife by ensuring clean drinking water, lessening the impact of floods, slowing the rate of habitat destruction and keeping working farms and ranches productive."

According to the bill summary, Title II includes several conservation provisions that consolidate 23 existing programs, saving $5 billion in the process. For example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) will provide cost-share for activities on working lands while refocusing the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) on farmers and ranchers trying to either create or improve wildlife habitats on their land.

The bill also includes the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which "continues to encourage higher levels of conservation and the adoption of new and emerging conservation technologies on farms, ranches, and forests."

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits for hunters is the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, by which private landowners can see a value-added benefit to creating habitats or opening their lands up to public outdoor recreation — including hunting and fishing.

The bill's entire legislative text can be found here.

Despite the benefits to outdoorsmen, other environmental groups are less than thrilled with the outcome of this bill, according to The New York Times, which reported conservation programs would be cut by $3.5 billion. Additional reductions could be coming from the sequester. While many conservation groups noted some steps in the right direction, the Times said, the bill ultimately fell short of their expectations. No specific groups were cited by the Times.

The bill also faces opposition in the House of Representatives, which could kill the bill due to its proposed cuts to the federal food stamp program — $4.1 billion would be cut over the next 10 years by restricting access to college students and lottery winners in the Senate version of the bill according to U.S. News & World Report, while $20 billion would be slashed in the House version. The New York Times reported a similar bill passed the Senate in 2012, but was shot down in the House because conservative lawmakers wanted deeper cuts to the food stamp program.

The conservation programs laid out in the bill certainly benefit outdoorsmen across the nation, but time will tell whether the additional provisions get the bill stuck in a political quagmire, where it could ultimately fail.

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