Iowa conservation groups are urging Congress to maintain funding for working lands conservation programs as lawmakers negotiate the pending farm bill. Nearly 98% of Iowa’s 33 million acres are privately owned, meaning it’s up to farmers, ranchers and other landowners to voluntarily participate in conservation programs. Locally, many farmers have begun the process of converting some of their lands into conservation areas. Some of these areas have become wetlands. Others are turned into areas for monarch butterflies or other beneficial pollinators.
Local farmers and those throughout the state have received $5 billion in federal conservation funds since 1995, and Joe Wilkinson, president of the Iowa Wildlife Federation, says everyone benefits.
Conservation programs promote enhanced wildlife habitat, better drinking water and increased flood control. The farm bill proposed by the House would cut nearly $800 million over 10 years, whereas funding is consistent in the Senate bill. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy with the National Wildlife Federation, says these types of conservation programs help keep farms and ranches in private hands, while protecting natural resources for future generations.
She notes that in 2016, Iowa’s $372 million share was one of the nation’s largest.
The large cuts to conservation funding in the previous farm bill meant a reduction of easements. Wilkinson says farmers and ranchers who focus on conservation are helping protect species like monarch butterflies and pheasants.
The National Wildlife Federation also wants Congress to include a national Sodsaver provision in the farm bill to protect what’s left of America’s grasslands, which are down to 5 percent of their original acreage.