Ag Sec. Vilsack announces planned CRP expansion to preserve wildlife

Ag/Outdoor, News

October 8th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

U-S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stood on a portion of a roughly 200-acre plot of land located near the Cass/Pottawattamie County line Monday afternoon, to announce a plan to extend the Conservation Reserve Program, in an effort to continue to conserve and restore wildlife and their habitats, especially the pheasant population.

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks with property manager Gary Matters, Monday afternoon, near the Cass/Pottawattamie County line. (Ric Hanson photo)

The move comes in cooperation with Pheasants Forever, the Nature Conservancy, and other, similar groups and is being developed under the SAFE, or State Acres for wildlife Enhancement, Program. In March, Vilsack announced the USDA’s goal of enrolling One-million acres in a new CRP grasslands and wetlands initiative, through continuous signups.

Vilsack said Monday, the USDA is committed to adding 400,000 CRP state acres across the country, with a number of states having additional acres allocated under SAFE. About 20 states he says, will be able to add up to 280-thousand acres for all projects. In Iowa, 50,000 additional acres will be added to SAFE, that are directly related to pheasants’ habitat initiative, to try and increase significantly, the pheasant population.  He says in Nebraska, they’ll be adding acres to existing programs, instead of new acres, under SAFE.

That includes 74-hundred acres to the Prairie Chicken effort, which will add to the 21-thousand acres currently enrolled in the program in eastern Nebraska, and another 22-thousand acres will be added to the 31-thousand allocated acres for the Upland Bird Habitat Initiative. SAFE is currently capped at 1.25-million acres, nationally. Acres are allocated across 97 SAFE projects in 36 states and Puerto Rico. The Ag Secretary said sign-up for the additional CRP acreages won’t be possible, however, until after Congress, and more specifically, House of Representatives, has finished its work on the Farm Bill.

He says by connecting and educating people about the “economic driver” that conservation and outdoor recreation is, officials hope once Congress returns after the election, that they finish the work they started. Vilsack was asked if it was “Fair,” to hold a press conference in a swing state like Iowa, less than a month before the election, in a contested location for the Iowa House of Representatives. Vilsack was also asked if this was a role for the USDA, or an attempt to sway voters. He said Iowa is number one in the country in filter strips, number one in grassland reserve areas, and one of the leading conservation and CRP states, as well as wetland reserve states. Therefore, he said, it is “Appropriate and necessary, at the beginning of hunting season, to talk about habitat, to educate people about the link between habitat and conservation, and economic development and jobs.

Vilsack his stop was all about the SAFE Program, something he’s been working on all year long, and for the past four-years. He said in Iowa, about $3-billion dollars worth of sales and economic activity is associated with conservation and outdoor recreation. He says that generates $700-million for state and local governments, and helps to employ nearly 31-thousand people. The land Vilsack spoke on Monday, is managed by Gary Matters, of Council Bluffs. It’s owned by his father, Fred Matters, who is retired, and lives in Urbandale.