U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is touting a plan to enroll more acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.
"To try to increase, significantly, the pheasant population," Vilsack said.
Pheasants Forever, the Nature Conservancy, and similar groups have embraced the project, which is under the State Acres For wildlife Enhancement Program -- called SAFE for short. The USDA had earlier announced its goal of getting one-million acres enrolled in that program.
Vilsack said Monday the USDA is committed to adding 400,000 CRP acres across the country, with a number of states having additional acres allocated under SAFE. About 20 states will get additional acres to existing programs.
"In Nebraska, what we're doing is we're adding 7400 acres to the Prairie Chicken effort which will add to the 21,000 acres that are in that program in eastern Nebraska," Vilsack said. "We're also going to add another 22,000 to the Upland Bird Habitat initiative where there are almost 31,000 acres allocated, so we'll have significant increases, obviously, in the Nebraska efforts."
But farmers won't be able to enroll additional acres in the C-R-P until congress has passed a new Farm Bill. As he has repeatedly over the past few months, Vilsack faults the U.S. House for failing to act before the 2008 Farm Bill expired September 30th -- leaving the Conservation Reserve Program and other U-S-D-A programs in limbo.
"By connecting and educating folks about the economic driver that conservation and outdoor recreation is, it is our hope that when congress returns after the election that they finish the work they started," Vilsack said. "And I think it is also reinforcing the notion that the plan that some may have to substantially reduce the commitment to conservation is something they should think very carefully about because conservation does not only create new opportunities for landowners and reasonable income, but it also creates jobs."
Vilsack cited reports indicating about three-billion dollars worth of sales and economic activity is associated with conservation and outdoor recreation, like pheasant hunting, in the U.S.
"That generates about $700 million for state and local goverments," he said, "and it helps to employ nearly 31,000 people."
Vilsack made his announcement Monday afternoon on a nearly 200-acre plot of land in western Iowa that's been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
(Copyright 2012 by The Nebraska Radio Network & KJAN. All Rights Reserved.)