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Commentary: 2014 Farm Bill is Good for Ducks and Duck Hunters

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The Agriculture Act of 2014 — more commonly known as the U.S. Farm Bill — was signed by the President today after ratification by the House and Senate in recent weeks, ending a painful journey of fits and starts on the long-expired legislation.

People of every conceivable political persuasion can find something to grumble about with this bill. Folks who lean conservative say it doesn't go far enough to reduce entitlements related to the food stamp and nutrition titles, while other people say it goes too far. Some will say it encourages the rich getting richer in farm country, while others say the safety net the farm program provides to our nation’s farmers and rancher’s isn’t adequate. And most certainly, people in the conservation world aren’t happy about some of the conservation cuts and trimming.

The U.S. Farm Bill represents a diverse bunch of programs with as diverse a body of interest groups as any piece of legislation Congress takes up. It is a buffet. And within the buffet line, we can all find things we like and other things we find not terribly palatable.

After reading chatter in forums, viewing comments on Delta’s Facebook page and hearing a variety of pundits, I’ve heard the question, “How can Delta Waterfowl support this thing?”

The answer: We are a waterfowl conservation organization, and the U.S. Farm Bill represents the single-largest investment in private lands conservation on the continent, bar none. With the stroke of a pen or wording hundreds of pages deep in legislative reports, the Farm Bill can conserve millions of acres of habitat for breeding ducks. Not engaging in this legislation that can have such a profound effect on the resource, the habitat base and our duck hunters, because we might not find component parts to our personal liking, is quite frankly, irresponsible.

Delta Waterfowl restricts its advocacy and public policy work on the Farm Bill to the very things our members, volunteers and supporters ask us to do — to create the best outcomes for ducks and their habitat in these very policy forums. We don’t weigh into the food stamp program, the commodity title or any other element for the Bill. That is beyond our mandate and our expertise. We are there for the ducks and duck hunters.

So let’s look at the duck outcomes from this Farm Bill. Conservation compliance provisions attached to the new crop insurance programs will ensure the conservation of 70 percent of the vulnerable small wetlands on the U.S. prairies. These are the same wetlands that have provided high duck populations and strong fall flights in recent years, and supported long duck seasons and high bag limits. The loss of conservation compliance for these wetlands would have resulted in a loss of one-third of our breeding pairs, meaning smaller fall flights, shorter duck seasons and reduced bag limits.

Ducks and duck habitat also benefitted by the passage of Sodsaver, which will remove the current incentive to plow up native grass nesting cover. It ensures federal farm benefits won’t be extended to those that break native sod. Our breeding ducks can continue to rely on native prairie as safe secure nesting cover. And finally, while drastically reduced, we maintain a viable Conservation Reserve Program that can continue to provide nesting areas for our breeding ducks.

Delays in the passage of the Farm Bill put wetlands, grasslands and CRP at risk. Not good for me, not good for you or anyone else who cares about ducks and duck hunting.

So while I and virtually every other commentator can find something at the buffet they don’t like about the Farm Bill, when it comes to ducks, we fared pretty darn well. As a duck hunter and duck conservation organization, those are the outcomes we strive for.

While the debates over the other elements of the bill are sound, those debates are not our debates. Let’s celebrate the victories this Farm Bill provides to ducks and duck hunters. We can be mindful of its shortcomings, but let’s not tip over the whole buffet line just because we don’t care for the broccoli.

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