Bipartisan congressional group urges big jump in funding to buy public lands

This is the first time in quite a while to hear a serious proposal to increase funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund-

Report urges investing billions in natural treasures. Federal government » Interior secretary says in times of difficulty we look to our landscapes for greatness. By Thomas Burr. The Salt Lake Tribune.

Over the years the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been used to purchase many natural treasures of land and water, but most of the time the fund has been starved simply to make the federal deficit look better.

More details on this. Report proposes conservation overhaul. By Jerry Hagstrom. Government Executive.com. One important quote from this is “The report specifically notes the Agriculture Department spends $2 billion per year on short-term leases on land in the Conservation Reserve Program, but public access for hunting and fishing or other recreational pursuits is “not a primary objective and landowner liability is a major stumbling block in some states.” [boldface mine]

The C0nservation Reserve Program does often benefit wildlife, but at a very high monetary cost. Over the years in many cases, enough money is spent on lease of lands in the CRP that the land could have been purchased several times over.

NYT editorial: Keeping the Reserve in Conservation

Efforts to open up the CRP lands for renewed farming is one of the most damaging proposals in a long time, and we will see the sad results quickly in increased soil erosion, dust storms, and disappearnce of wildlife.  Then there is many billions of dollars paid over the years for this down the drain.

Pressure to open these lands is another sad effect of the mandate to push for corn-derived ethanol.

Editorial: New York Times. Keeping the Reserve in Conservation [Reserve Program]

Earlier on this blog. Judge halts USDA’s cattle-grazing plans on Conservation Reserve Program lands

Judge halts USDA’s cattle-grazing plans on Conservation Reserve Program lands

The Conservation Reserve Project has removed many millions of marginal and sub-marginal lands from agricultural production over the last 20 years or so. It has had an enormous beneficial effect on water quality and wildlife habitat in some places. Southeast Idaho, where I live is one of the most important places to benefit.

On the other hand, the monetary payments to these nonproducing farmers have been enormous. As George Wuerthner has pointed out many times, the land could have purchased and become public land easily for the amount of money paid to the owners who voluntarily sign up for this program.

Another one of the irritating aspects of the program is the tendency for various Administrations, including the current one, to open these lands to grazing where there is a drought, or in the present case, simply high food prices. This pretty much defeats the expensive CRP’s purpose.

Fortunately, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour has just issued and injunction that could stop the renewed grazing on 24 million acres of CRP lands around the U.S.

Story in the Seattle Times. The injunction ordered Tuesday by U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour could affect 24 million acres of conservation lands across the country.

And here is some potentially very bad news. Farmers are pressuring to be let out of their CRP contracts because of the artificially high price of corn that has been created by mandates to produce ethanol from corn. USDA Rule Change May Lead To Crops on Conserved Land. By Joel Achenbach. Washington Post.

These lands were taken out of production because they are generally hilly with soils that flow away with the first rain. Corn is one of the very worst crops in terms of erosion. It is plain to see that corn simply cannot hold the soil in place. Add this then as yet another cost of corn ethanol.

Many people are blaming the huge midwest floods on the land use practices in the area, aggrevated by planting of more corn — this is the kind of additional cost we are talking about.