June 16, 2023
Representative Dusty Johnson
1717 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Johnson,
The South Dakota Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (SD BHA) appreciates this opportunity to provide input on the 2023 Farm Bill. BHA seeks to ensure North America's outdoor heritage of hunting and fishing in a natural setting, through education and work on behalf of wild public lands, waters, and wildlife, and our SD members have a keen interest in Title II, the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill.
Our opportunities to hunt and fish depend on quality habitats. Our members enjoy hunting and fishing in a wide range of landscapes. Now, more than ever, we need more places to rekindle that fire in people’s hearts. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers is a nonpartisan group of sportsmen and women who stand up for these places and for the outdoor opportunities they represent. The continuation of the things we love – hunting, fishing, wild places, and wildlife - all depends upon our ability to move forward.
As hunters and anglers, we vigorously support the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP). The VPA-HIP is the only federal program specifically designed to facilitate public access for hunters and anglers on private lands. VPA-HIP is not only widely recognized as one of the most effective public access tools in the United States; it also helps landowners improve habitat stewardship and incentivizes restoration practices that benefit fish and wildlife.
VPA-HIP operates by extending competitive grants to state and tribal governments that are used to incentivize private landowners to voluntarily allow public access. The upcoming Farm Bill is an opportunity to reaffirm – and even increase – our investment in VPA-HIP.
The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act, led by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Roger Marshall (R-KS), would reauthorize the program and increase funding from $50 million to $150 million over the next five years. The Voluntary Public Access Improvement Act would triple the impact of this popular and widely utilized program. Since most sportsmen and women cite insufficient access as the biggest obstacle to getting afield, the impact of this increase would be incalculable.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is one of the most important wildlife conservation programs ever implemented on private land. To increase the positive outcomes of CRP for soil health, water, and wildlife and for greater benefits to producers and rural economies – not to mention sportsmen and women - CRP should be improved by implementing the following:
- Removing rental-rate caps to fairly compensate contract holders. The $50,000 limit has been in place since 1985 and should be increased to $125,000.
- Formally recognizing the State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement program and ensure it remains within continuous CRP.
- Increasing Practice Incentive Payments to at least 50% of the cost of implementation, and reinstating cost-share for mid-contract management for all practices except haying and grazing.
- Reinstating historic limits to emergency haying and grazing.
The 2023 Farm Bill should include wildlife corridors and connectivity as a priority resource concern in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This should include increased payments for wildlife connectivity practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) with increased research and opportunities for virtual fencing. Existing programs should be changed to provide resources and incentives to private landowners to increase habitat connectivity and allow for wildlife movement in key migration corridors.
SD BHA believes the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides valuable support for working lands, private landowners, hunters, anglers, and natural habitats across the country. NRCS offers needed assistance to help increase producer profitability, boost our nation’s water quality and quantity, strengthen climate change resilience, and provide benefits to wildlife.
USDA’s voluntary, incentive-based working lands programs are massively oversubscribed. The support and funding for USDA’s voluntary, incentive-based working lands programs has not met the demand. We urge the baseline funding for conservation programs to be increased. This includes protecting the $20 billion allocated by the 117thCongress.
We also support streamlining the application process for conservation programs in the 2023 Farm Bill. Technical Assistance and NRCS staffing are critical for conservation practice enrollment and retention. The Farm Bill should ensure that Conservation Technical Assistance is provided to landowners to efficiently conduct existing and new programs.
The existing Sodsaver provision currently applies only to the six Prairie Pothole states. The provision is designed to prevent conversion of grassland to cropland. While SD already benefits from this, we urge Congress to expand Sodsaver nationwide. Protecting grassland habitat will improve water and air quality, increase wildlife habitat, and prevent soil erosion.
We thank you for this opportunity and ask for your careful consideration of our comments.
Rochelle Plocek, Board Chair
South Dakota Backcountry Hunters & Anglers