U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today unveiled his ninth legislative proposal intended to be included in the 2018 farm bill. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Improvement and Rural Water System Access Act of 2018 (S. 2614) would increase the usefulness of this popular conservation program that is vital to South Dakota and provide assistance to rural water systems by making it less costly for their water pipelines to cross U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land.
“Pheasant, grouse, and quail hunting provides a significant boost to state economies around the country, and these states have the habitat created by CRP to thank for it in many cases,” said Thune. “Unfortunately, many of these game species’ populations have been dropping, and there’s an alarming correlation between that and declines in CRP acreage and loss of habitat. Building on changes I’ve already proposed that would help farmers and ranchers better manage and utilize CRP, this legislation would include ‘declining habitat for wildlife species of economic significance’ as a priority purpose for targeting new or expanded CRP acres.”
Specifically, S. 2614 would:
- Define “species of economic significance” as a wildlife species to which CRP is critical to maintaining its habitat, as determined by the secretary of agriculture and after the governor of a state verifies to the secretary that it provides more than $150,000,000 per year to the economy of the state from hunting the wildlife species and other related activities, such as the purchase of hunting supplies, lodging, and food sales.
- Authorize the secretary of agriculture to designate areas of economic sensitivity as economic priority areas for CRP allocations. Current law allows the secretary to designate only areas of special environmental sensitivity as conservation priority areas.
- Along with existing considerations for water quality and habitat impacts related to agricultural production in watersheds, this bill gives the secretary of agriculture new authority to prioritize CRP in areas with actual and significant declining habitat for species of economic significance.
- Further expand Thune’s proposal to allow limited grazing on CRP acres and help producers better utilize their CRP acres by authorizing cost-share assistance for fencing and water distribution practices on those acres.
- Since CRP haying and grazing are permitted on a regular basis under Thune’s other CRP proposals, S. 2614 removes existing authority for the secretary of agriculture to authorize emergency haying and grazing and reduced rental payments on all CRP acres, because it would no longer be necessary.
Rural Water System Assistance
USFS charges a rental fee under a conditional use agreement when a rural water system pipeline crosses USFS land. Since most rural water systems provide water to underserved rural areas, including Indian reservation land, these USFS rental fees add additional costs for rural water users in these areas. This bill would prohibit USFS from charging a rental fee under a conditional use agreement when rural water system lines cross USFS land.For additional background information on S. 2614, click here. To learn more about Thune’s 2018 farm bill, please visit the farm bill section on www.thune.senate.gov.