National Issues

Kansans can help grow butterfly-friendly plants in pollination project


By Kelly Meyerhofer

The Wichita Eagle

The White House’s pollination project, which will cover 200 miles from northern Minnesota to Texas with native plants to help monarch butterflies, will include large parts of Kansas, said Orley “Chip” Taylor, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas.

Common Milkweed by Kevin Adams

Common Milkweed by Kevin Adams

Kansans can help by growing a variety of pollinator-friendly plants that bloom at different times of the year. Scott Vogt, executive director of Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston, recommended liatris and black-eyed susans for the summer and asters in the fall.

Milkweed plants are by far the best option for monarch conversation, though some gardeners shy away from the aggressive plant.

There are a few types, like butterfly milkweed, that do not form colonies and can be incorporated into a formal bed. This type of milkweed can serve as a food source for an adult monarch.

But the more aggressive varieties of milkweed – Common, Sullivan’s and Showy – grow wider leaves that caterpillars prefer to munch. Vogt advises people to plant these in an informal area of the yard where “they can do their own thing.”

Milkweed planting season is over right now, but begins again in early September. Fall planting actually gives milkweed a jump, Vogt said. Milkweed planted in the spring can struggle from a barely established root system, he said.

The plant is seasonally sold at some garden stores, including Dyck Arboretum, for $3 to $5 depending on the size of the pot.

Monarch Watch – a national conservation group headed by Taylor, the KU butterfly biologist – is offering free milkweed plants for people willing to cover the cost of shipping. Monsanto is funding the cost of 100,000 plants this summer and another 100,000 next summer.

“We are looking for people who are interested in restoring the habitat,” Taylor said. “Not for your garden, not for retail, but for restoration.”

A minimum order is a flat with 32 plugs. A shipment of 50 plugs is estimated to cost between $10 and $15.

To learn more, visit or call 785-864-4441.

Federal pollinator plan needs 1 billion milkweed plants for monarch butterflies

By Josephine Marcotty

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Monarch feeding on thistle.

Monarch feeding on thistle.

Starting as soon as this fall, America’s midsection could begin to look strikingly different to a monarch butterfly fluttering south for the winter.

Oceans of corn would be dotted with islands of native plants. Homeowners would have fewer lawns – and a lot less mowing. Roadsides would grow thick with grasses and flowers. And more than a billion unruly milkweed plants would pop up along a 200-mile-wide corridor along I-35 from Minnesota to Kansas to Texas.

That’s the ambitious vision buried in a national pollinator plan released by the White House – an epic attempt to save the gaudy symbol of the prairie from its steady slide toward the Endangered Species list. The key is milkweed, the one and only food source for monarch caterpillars, which has all but disappeared from Midwestern landscapes, thanks largely to GMO crops and the widespread use of Roundup.

But if it succeeds, the plan would rescue pollinators considered vital to a healthy environment, and in five years the number of monarchs that travel 3,000 miles every year from the Midwest to the mountains of Mexico and then back again, would increase by nearly tenfold.

“We are going to get the most bang for our buck by concentrating on the prairie corridor,” said Karen Oberhauser, a University of Minnesota professor and one of two key scientists advising federal agencies on the monarch plan.

And monarchs won’t be the only ones to benefit.

“It’s a flagship species for a lot of other critters that will enjoy that habitat,” said Tom Melius, director of the Midwest region for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is leading the monarch restoration plan. That includes grassland birds, which are also disappearing from the landscape, and pollinators of all kinds, he said.

Monarchs earned a place in the White House pollinator plan in part because they are wildly popular, and because they have an extraordinary migration that makes it easy to measure their shocking decline.

In January this year, monarchs covered about 2.8 acres of trees in Mexico, their primary overwintering site, where they droop from the branches in great fluttering clusters through the cold months.

That’s better than the all-time low of 33 million butterflies spread over 1.6 acres, in 2014. But their numbers have crashed since the mid-1990s, when they covered 30 to 40 acres of acres of trees every winter.

The trend is so alarming that last year a number of environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the butterfly on the federal Endangered Species list, which the agency is now considering.

Scientists have cited a number of reasons for the decline. For a time, logging in and around Mexico’s mountain forests deprived them of critical winter protection, but that’s been largely stopped. Now their numbers are so low that there’s room to spare in the mountains.

Climate change and the severe weather events it brings, like drought and flooding, can wipe out the milkweed plants that monarchs need to lay their eggs and the flowers they need for nectar throughout their migration route.

Pesticides may also play a part – chief among them a class known as neonicotinoids that are now embedded in virtually all row crops planted across millions of acres. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that milkweed growing near farm fields absorbed the pesticide, most likely from the soil. And 50 to 80 percent of the monarch eggs on contaminated plants died before or soon after hatching.

But the biggest reason, scientists say, is that between Duluth and Texas there’s just not much milkweed anymore.

Farmers used to pull the plant out with machines when they cultivated the rows, and year after year it would simply grow back. But in the 1990s, Monsanto revolutionized Midwestern agriculture with seeds resistant to the herbicide Roundup, and now the widespread use of that combination means that most row crops are, for the most part, completely bare of all weeds.

A 2012 study by Oberhauser and John Pleasants, a scientist at Iowa State University, showed the consequences for monarchs: Half the milkweed in the corn belt disappeared between 1999 and 2010.

The number of eggs that monarchs produce took an even greater hit, declining 81 percent during that same period. Turns out, the milkweed plants inside farm fields were more important to the butterflies than those outside.

The monarchs laid four times as many eggs on milkweed plants in farm field plants than on those growing in pastures or roadsides. The scientists weren’t sure why – maybe the eggs were better protected from predators, or perhaps the farm fertilizers made the plants more nutritious.

Since then, the loss of milkweed has only accelerated as row crop agriculture has continued to expand across the country. Between 2008 and 2012, another 5.7 million acres of grasslands were converted to row crops, primarily corn, according to a University of Wisconsin study published earlier this year.

And that, said Pleasants, means the loss of about another 53 million milkweed plants per year.

USDA announces Conservation Incentives for working grass, range and pasture lands

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that beginning Sept. 1, farmers and ranchers can apply for financial assistance to help conserve working grasslands, rangeland and pastureland while maintaining the areas as livestock grazing lands.

The initiative is part of the voluntary Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federally funded program that for 30 years has assisted agricultural producers with the cost of restoring, enhancing and protecting certain grasses, shrubs and trees to improve water quality, prevent soil erosion and reduce loss of wildlife habitat. In return, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. CRP has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to cropland by 95 and 85 percent respectively, and even sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.

“A record 400 million acres and 600,000 producers and landowners are currently enrolled in USDA’s conservation programs. The Conservation Reserve Program has been one of the most successful conservation programs in the history of the country, and we are pleased to begin these grasslands incentives as we celebrate the program’s 30th year,” said Vilsack. “This is another great example of how agricultural production can work hand in hand with efforts to improve the environment and increase wildlife habitat.”

The CRP-Grasslands initiative will provide participants who establish long-term, resource-conserving covers with annual rental payments up to 75 percent of the grazing value of the land. Cost-share assistance also is available for up to 50 percent of the covers and other practices, such as cross fencing to support rotational grazing or improving pasture cover to benefit pollinators or other wildlife. Participants may still conduct common grazing practices, produce hay, mow, or harvest for seed production, conduct fire rehabilitation, and construct firebreaks and fences.

With the publication of the CRP regulation today, the Farm Service Agency will accept applications on an ongoing basis beginning Sept. 1, 2015, with those applications scored against published ranking criteria, and approved based on the competiveness of the offer. The ranking period will occur at least once per year and be announced at least 30 days prior to its start. The end of the first ranking period will be Nov. 20, 2015.

Later this week, USDA will also announce state-by-state allotments for the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE). Through SAFE, also a CRP initiative, up to 400,000 acres of additional agricultural land across 37 states will be eligible for wildlife habitat restoration funding. The additional acres are part of an earlier CRP wildlife habitat announcement made by Secretary Vilsack. Currently, more than 1 million acres, representing 98 projects, are enrolled in SAFE.

To learn more about participating in CRP-Grasslands or SAFE, visit or consult with the local Farm Service Agency county office. To locate a nearby Farm Service Agency office, visit To learn more about the 30th anniversary of CRP, visit or follow on Twitter using #CRPis30.

The CRP-Grasslands program was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

Jewell, Vilsack urged to support bobwhite restoration efforts

National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) efforts to restore wild bobwhites across their historic range received a boost on the national stage recently when the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council (WHHCC) urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to essentially adopt NBCI’s strategies on lands they manage or influence. The WHHCC is a federally appointed group advising both departments and is composed of national hunting, conservation, industry and shooting sports leaders. The council said adoption and support of NBCI’s approach would “proactively avert problems that have occurred with other declining game bird species like Lesser Prairie-Chicken and Greater Sage-Grouse.” The council said while multi-state plans had been crafted to deal with those species because of the fear of an endangered species listing, that same situation with bobwhites could be avoided by being proactive. To reestablish bobwhites in their historic agricultural and forested settings, the council offered four strategies:

  • establish diverse native grasslands and wildflowers on idled acres of marginal croplands and other rural landscapes
  • convert up to one-third of existing tame pasture acreage to native forage grasses good for cows and quail
  • actively manage pine and oak forests on private and public lands with a goal of promoting early successional forest/grassland habitats, including timber thinning followed by routine prescribed fire to restore open forest savannas
  • mobilize Department of the Interior and Agriculture personnel to support widespread restoration of habitat for bobwhites, other grassland birds and pollinator species

“…now is the time for federal actions to prevent future ‘listing anxiety’,” wrote John Tomke, council chairman. “Your departments have the opportunity to ensure the restoration of habitat for bobwhite quail, other declining grassland birds and pollinators on private croplands, rangelands and forest lands. In addition, many National Forests, National Parks, National Battlefields, Military Parks and National Wildlife Refuges are ideal places …”

“The council is spot-on when they say these federal agencies can have a huge impact on populations of bobwhites, other grassland birds and pollinators on both private and public lands,” said NBCI Director Don McKenzie. “We appreciate the council’s support and would welcome proactive participation by both the Interior and Agriculture departments.”

Headquartered at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries, NBCI is an initiative of the National Bobwhite Technical Committee (NBTC) to elevate northern bobwhite recovery from an individual state-by-state proposition to a coordinated, range-wide leadership endeavor. The committee is comprised of representatives of 25 state wildlife agencies, various academic research institutions and private conservation organizations. Support for NBCI is provided by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, state wildlife agencies, the University of Tennessee and Park Cities Quail. For more information, please visit and find us on Facebook, YouTube and Slideshare.

Vanishing Paradise coalition responds to settlement announcement

Today’s Agreement on Settlement Dollars Puts Gulf on Road to Recovery

On the morning of July 2, 2015, BP, the U.S. Justice Department, and the five Gulf states made public the terms of a settlement agreement regarding the company’s role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP will pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages for its role in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Steve Bender, director of Vanishing Paradise – a national coalition of more than 800 sportsman and outdoors groups, organizations and businesses working on Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta restoration – released the following statement in response:

“Today’s settlement moves the wildlife and habitat of the Gulf Coast forward on the road to recovery. It’s time to look ahead to the future and work toward getting real, on-the-ground restoration projects done.

“Because Congress passed the RESTORE Act in 2012, 80 percent of the money BP pays as a result of the Clean Water Act penalty will be returned to the Gulf Coast for much needed restoration and to improve the region’s long-term resiliency. Repairing the ongoing damage from the oil spill is also of utmost importance going forward, and the settlement dollars BP pays through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment will help the areas devastated by the spill – including habitat that supports world-class hunting and fishing.

“The Gulf Coast region is an ecological and economic driver for the entire nation, and sportsmen and women care about ensuring this national treasure is restored for future generations to enjoy. With as many as 14 million waterfowl migrating to the Gulf’s warm shores annually, and salt and freshwater fishing unlike anywhere else on the planet, we must make sure this entire region – including the endangered Mississippi River Delta – is on the path forward to long-term health and recovery. We look forward to working with federal and state officials and the RESTORE Council to make sure every dime of oil disaster money goes to meaningful, comprehensive restoration.”


Since the Gulf oil disaster more than five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved.

A recent infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.

A previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.

Recent studies estimate 1,000,000 birds died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.

Modeling for a recent stock assessment projected that between 20,000 and 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died in 2010 as a result of the spill.

A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.

A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.

A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay maximum fines under the Clean Water Act for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Our Coalition has identified 19 projects from Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast that have the greatest potential to restore our coast.

USDA Conservation Program helps reduce flooding concerns along Tennessee’s Red River

Like every farmer, Brendan Finucane needs rain to transform the seeds he plants into a bountiful harvest.  For Finucane, and others who farm along the Red River in Tennessee’s northeast Robertson County, too much rain during the growing season brings the constant threat of flooding and loss of thousands of dollars of farm income.

Finucane had suffered lower yields and even total crop losses on the acreage near the river in three out of the last 10 of years. These circumstances led Finucane to his local USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) office for suggestions on how he could better use and protect the land.

In 2012, Finucane, who operates Rockjolly Farm, enrolled six acres of the 100-acre field near the river bottom in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). These acres were sown to native grasses providing enhanced habitat for wildlife.

CRP is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015 and is among the largest private lands program for conservation used extensively throughout the United States to reduce soil erosion, improve water and air quality and provide wildlife habitat.

The voluntary program allows eligible landowners to receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource-conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of their 10-to-15-year contracts.

In the past, Finucane’s farm ground in the Red River flood plain was planted in a rotation of wheat, soybean and corn, which, after heavy downpours, would be riddled with rock debris.

“During the 1940’s a natural gas pipeline was laid across the riverbed and has caused the limestone rock debris to continually surface over time,” said Finucane. “Flooding has increased the debris and the only clean up option was to pick up the limestone by hand to allow for planting.”

Finucane said that although the CRP rental payment might be slightly less than what he might have earned from his crop production, he thought there was a greater benefit in returning the land to native grasses. The result was less cleanup work for him at planting time and more wildlife on his farm. He’s even noticed a Great Blue Heron nesting site in trees along the CRP plantings.

Since its inception on December 23, 1985, the CRP program has helped prevent more than eight billion tons of soil from eroding and protected more than 170,000 stream miles with riparian and grass buffers, more than 100,000 acres of bottomland hardwood trees, nearly 300,000 acres of flood-plain wetlands, and 250,000 acres each for duck nesting habitat and upland bird habitat.

For an interactive tour of CRP success stories from across the U.S., please visit the FSA CRP 30th Anniversary website at

Record number of farmers and ranchers certified under 2014 Farm Bill Conservation Compliance

Overwhelming Number of Farmers and Ranchers Certify to Follow Conservation Compliance Guidelines, Building on Long-Standing Participation through Other USDA Programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that over 98.2 percent of producers have met the 2014 Farm Bill requirement to certify conservation compliance to qualify for crop insurance premium support payments.

Implementing the 2014 Farm Bill provisions for conservation compliance is expected to extend conservation provisions for an additional 1.5 million acres of highly erodible lands and 1.1 million acres of wetlands, which will reduce soil erosion, enhance water quality, and create wildlife habitat.

“This overwhelming response is a product of USDA’s extensive outreach and the commitment of America’s farmers to be stewards of the land,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By investing in both American farmers and the health of our productive lands, we are ensuring future generations have access to fertile soil, healthy food supplies, and a strong rural economy.”

USDA has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that every impacted producer knew of the June 1, 2015 deadline to certify their conservation compliance. For example, all 2015 crop insurance contracts included conservation compliance notifications. USDA has sent out more than 50,000 reminder letters and postcards to individual producers, made over 25,000 phone calls, conducted informational meetings and training sessions for nearly 6,000 stakeholders across the country, including in major specialty crop producing states with affected commodity groups, and more. Since December 2014, USDA collaborated with crop insurers to ensure they had updated lists for agents to continue contacting producers to also remind them of the filing deadline.

Of the small number of producers who have not certified their conservation compliance, USDA records suggest the majority are no longer farming or may have filed forms with discrepancies that can still be reconciled. The Farm Service Agency is proactively reaching back out to all of these producers before their sales closing date and working with individuals facing extenuating circumstances who have not filed the form in order to assist them with certifying compliance.

“I’ve asked the agencies to contact the producers again before their sales closing date,” said Vilsack. “I want to ensure that every producer that turned in an AD-1026 by June 1, 2015, knows they can still make corrections and remain eligible for premium support.”

USDA is providing additional flexibility to help the newly insured producers to certify their conservation compliance. For example, producers, who began farming or ranching after June 1, or producers who have not participated in USDA programs prior to June 1, can file an exemption to the conservation compliance certification for reinsurance year 2016 and still be eligible for the crop insurance premium support.

The Highly Erodible Land Conservation and Wetland Conservation Certification form (AD-1026) is available at local USDA Service Centers or online at

The announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has implemented many provisions of this critical legislation, providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

Guest Commentary: New rule safeguards Clean Water Act


By Kent Peppler and David Nickum

The Denver Post Opinion

For nearly 15 years, 10,000 miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands in Colorado have been at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed due to confusion over what bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. That all changed last week thanks to a new rule from the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that restores protections to the vital waters that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and safe drinking water to two out of three Coloradans.

The rule is a clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. It gives Colorado’s farmers and ranchers a clear understanding of the rules that protect the water we rely on for the production of healthful food while maintaining all of the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for normal farming activities, and in some cases, strengthening them. The rule also gives Colorado sportsmen certainty that the wetlands and headwater streams that form the backbone of our state’s $3 billion outdoor recreation economy will be safeguarded.

Contrary to what opponents have claimed, the rule does not expand the Clean Water Act. The rule does not protect any new types of waters or regulate ditches. It does not apply to groundwater, nor does it create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, or address land use or private property rights.

In crafting the long-overdue final rule, the agencies reviewed comments from more than 1 million Americans. Advocates on all sides had called for the clarification the rule provides, prompting the EPA and Army Corps to hold more than 400 meetings with stakeholders. The final rule is a clear victory not only for farmers, ranchers and sportsmen, but for all Coloradans. Unfortunately, it may not last long.

Before the clean water rule was even finalized, some members of Congress began to engage in last ditch efforts to block the anticipated rule, and restart the multi-year rulemaking process. Now that the rule has been written, these attacks have intensified. Inflammatory rhetoric about an administrative “power grab” are driving attempts to pass legislation in both the House and Senate that would force the agencies to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the rule. Not only would these efforts unnecessarily delay a process that has been well vetted from top to bottom, it would also have serious, damaging impacts on our water supply, our local farmers, sportsmen and our state’s economy.

As Congress considers this unnecessary delay, Colorado’s senators have a critical role to play. Sen. Michael Bennet has supported these efforts to protect clean water in the past, while Sen. Cory Gardner has been in opposition. We urge them both to do what’s in the best interest for their constituents and oppose efforts to derail the clean water rule.

There is a misconception that all farmers oppose the clean water rule. In fact, farmers, ranchers and sportsmen have stood side by side for decades in the fight for clean water, and were present during the many public meetings and listening sessions the agencies held as they were forming the final rule. As we face down 11th-hour efforts to block the rule, we urge support for the clean water rule across the Continental Divide, from headwater trout streams to farm fields, to sustain our Colorado way of life for us and future generations of farmers, hunters and anglers.

Kent Peppler is president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

Glassing the Hill: June 22-26

The TRCP’s scouting report on sportsmen’s issues in Congress

By Kristyn Brady

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

Congress may look like it’s getting an early start on spending bills, but we’re pretty sure they’re going nowhere for a while. This week, the House will vote on its appropriations bill for the Department of Interior and EPA. The spending plan would shortchange key conservation programs and target the Obama administration’s environmental and climate change programs. The bill allocates a total of $30.17 billion for the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Forest Service. These disappointing numbers are $246 million below fiscal year 2015 funding levels and represent historically low funding for conservation.

Add to that some damaging policy riders—which would delay the listing of the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act and undermine the recently released clean water rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands—and you’ve got some serious political posturing. As many expected, the GOP-crafted appropriations bill also targets the EPA in a number of these riders and seeks to reduce EPA staff.

There is language prohibiting the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management from ordering new closures of public lands to hunting and recreational shooting.

Here are the highlights of the House spending bill:

  • The Environmental Protection Agencyreceived $7.4 billion, a 9% funding decrease
    • $69 million cut to regulatory programs.
  • Payments in Lieu of Taxes program is fully funded at $452 million
  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) received $1.1 billion, a $30 million increase from FY15
  • The National Park Servicereceived $2.7 billion, a $53 million increase over FY15
    • $52 million was provided to address the frequently-discussed maintenance backlog
  • The U.S. Forest Servicereceived $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease in funding from FY15 levels
    • $3.6 billion provided to DOI and USFS to combat wildfires
    • $92 million for the Flame Wildfire Suppression Reserve Fund
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received $1.4 billion, an $8 million decrease from FY15 funding levels
  • North American Wetland Conservation Fund (NAWCA) received $35 million
  • State and Tribal Wildlife Grants received $59.195 million


The grass isn’t any greener for other agencies. On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee will mark up its fiscal year 2016 spending bill for the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration. The $20 billion spending package features significant cuts to key conservation programs:

  • Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)
    • Enrollment cut by 23%
    • Reduction from 10 to 7.74 million acres.
    • Or a 5-year cut of $200 million
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
    • $300 million cut
  • Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
    • $35 million cut
  • Conservation Operations (i.e. on-the-ground technical assistance and program delivery)
    • $13.5 million cut

The spending plan also features a controversial policy rider that would delay implementation of conservation compliance, a program that requires farmers receiving federal crop insurance to implement conservation practices aimed at improving soil and water quality. The rider would not preclude the U.S. Department of Agriculture from employing compliance, as needed, but would allow the agency to continue to provide subsidies for a year without requiring conservation compliance across the board.

More information on the bill can be found here.

U.S. Senate committee passes Sen. Jerry Moran’s amendment prohibiting ‘threatened’ listing of Lesser Prairie-chicken

By Justin Wingerte

The Topeka Capital-Journal

A U.S. Senate committee has approved an amendment barring the federal Fish and Wildlife Service from enforcing its listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened species.

On Thursday, June 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $30 billion measure to fund the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency, among other departments. The committee, the largest in the Senate, approved the measure along party lines, with all 16 Republicans voting in favor and all 14 Democrats voting against.

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Lesser Prairie-chicken

Attached to the legislation was an amendment by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, “to prohibit the use of funds to implement or enforce the threatened species listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.”

Moran’s amendment was approved by the same 16-14 vote as the full legislation. A measure to remove the Moran amendment and other divisive measures limiting the powers of the EPA and Interior Department failed on a 14-16 party line vote.

“I was pleased the Senate Appropriations Committee acted today to protect Kansas and rural America from the consequences of the listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Moran said in a statement.

Despite passage, the future of Moran’s amendment and the appropriations bill it is attached to remain in question. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said the bill’s amendments are likely to draw a veto from President Barack Obama.

“These riders are terrible policy,” Udall said of the bill’s amendments. “They’re nothing more than a special interest giveaway to polluters. And they also have a proven track record of derailing the appropriations process.”

In addition to Moran’s amendment, the Senate legislation contains a measure to bar the threatened or endangered listing of the Greater Sage-grouse and an amendment to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

The attachment of amendments, or riders, to appropriations bills is a common tactic employed by members of Congress to direct federal agencies to act in a certain manner. During a speech Sunday at the conservative Ripon Society in Washington, Moran touted Congress’ power over federal agencies.

“Only when we have the power of the purse do they start paying attention to us,” Moran said. “It creates a dialogue, an opportunity to have conversation with a cabinet secretary or an agency head. And if they don’t listen or are uncooperative, you have the greater threat, which is no money can be spent.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said the “threatened” listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken was the result of a steep decline in the bird’s populations in recent years. Five states are home to the Lesser Prairie-chicken: Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Together, the states had fewer than 18,000 Lesser Prairie-chickens in 2013.

But opponents in Kansas of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing have argued for years that classifying the Lesser Prairie-chicken as threatened places unfair conservation fees and restrictions on farmers, ranchers and oil companies.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acted prematurely when listing the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Moran said. “The five states with habitat area … came together with stakeholders to develop a broadly supported plan to conserve the bird. However, they were not given adequate time to implement the conservation plan due to the federal government unnecessarily stepping in and listing the bird as a threatened species.”

A U.S. House version of the Interior-EPA appropriations bill doesn’t limit the Fish and Wildlife Service’s ability to enforce its listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened species, though it does contain amendments similar to those in the Senate bill, including a measure by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., to defund the EPA’s efforts to update ozone regulations.

On May 15, House members agreed 229-190 to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would “prohibit the further listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken as a threatened or endangered species until 2021.” All four members of Kansas’ House delegation voted in favor.

“With passage of this amendment, we begin ending the massive regulatory threat to our rural way of life from the ill-conceived listing of the Lesser Prairie-chicken,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp said in a statement that day. “It is high time that we place a greater value on the citizens of rural America than the Lesser Prairie-chicken.”