Monday, February 18, 2008

Banking Land for Wildlife

On the map above, each green dot represents 1,000 acres of CRP land. The grey area is 95% federally-owned land, mostly U.S. Forest Service land, Bureau of Land Management land, Indian reservations, Wildlife Refuges, and National Parks.

A bit of good news on the environmental front: We are putting a lot of marginal farm land into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which was started in 1982 as way of taking marginal land out of production in order to improve streams and wildlife habitat.

The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), has boosted this program a great deal, because it is now illegal, in this increasingly interconnected world, for the U.S. government to subsidize farmers in the manner they used to (we could do it, of course, but we would be nailed by import tariffs on our goods sold overseas).

Subsidies of course, rarely die -- they just morph into something new. In this case the "something new" is "land banking" through the Conservation Reserve Program. The CRP has become a new form of subsidy for marginal farms, especially in the Plains and Western states -- a win-win situation for wildlife and farmers.

More than 32 million acres of farmland have been voluntarily pulled out of production and put into the CRP in order to slow top soil loss and exhaustion, and to provide habitat for native plants and animals (including fox, raccoon, groundhogs, badger and possum). Farmers are paid a per-acre payment which is apparently worth the trouble of not plowing, not harvesting, and not worrying about the weather.

CRP lands now total more than 50,000 square miles of land across the United States (an area about the same size as England), and make up vast stretches of some prairie states. You can see the national map of CRP land >> here.


Anonymous said...

Between the farm boom and biofuel CRP is history.

John Carlson said...

Hi Patrick,
You are right about the benefits of CRP, however this program has recently not been working as well as it has in the past. Recent increases in the price of grain, demands for biofuel, and relatively low payments compared to potential income from raising a crop have all resulted in many of the lands that were enrolled in CRP to come out of that program and be converted to crops. This is particularly severe in the Northern Great Plains and combinded with increasing rates of conversion of native grasslands to croplands has resulted in the loss of thousands of acres of former wildlife habitat in the last couple of years.