(Washington, DC—August 11, 2011) Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's commitment today to invest $100 million through the Wetlands Reserve Program to acquire permanent easements from eligible landowners and assist with wetland restoration on nearly 24,000 acres of agricultural land in the Northern Everglades Watershed is a smart ecological and economic investment, according to a leading conservation group. Environmental Defense Fund also says it demonstrates why maintaining funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program and other USDA conservation programs is critical.
"Involving private landowners in these kinds of landscape-scale efforts is exactly what we need to do if we're going to be effective in accomplishing our most important conservation goals, including healthy ecosystems that provide clean water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and other public benefits," said Sara Hopper, agricultural policy director for Environmental Defense Fund and a former staff member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "But we cannot effectively engage private landowners in big initiatives like this one without continued, robust funding for voluntary, incentive-based programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program. It's imperative that Congress not cut funding for these programs in the coming months, as members of the House and Senate continue to look for ways to reduce the federal budget deficit."
In June, despite the opposition of more than 50 agricultural and conservation groups, the U.S. House of Representatives approved nearly $1 billion in cuts to USDA conservation programs, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, in the agriculture appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2012. The Senate is expected to develop its version of the appropriations bill this fall, and conservation groups are urging it to reject the House cuts. In addition, the special committee Congress is convening to negotiate a package of longer-term deficit reduction measures could propose additional cuts to USDA's voluntary conservation incentives programs, particularly if members of the committee cannot reach agreement on ways to increase revenue.