Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

The Obameter

Increase funding for progams that conserve lands and habitat for select species such as the Osceola turkey


"Will fight to increase funding for the Conservation Security Program and the major set-aside programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Grasslands Reserve Program, so that rental rates can compete with rising commodity prices; will direct the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to place a special emphasis on restoration of habitat for important game species associated with specific regions of the United States, such as bobwhite quail and Eastern and Osceola turkey habitat in the South, ruffed grouse habitat in the Northeast, and sage grouse and pronghorn antelope habitat in the West;" and will support the use of tax incentives and other financial mechanisms to encourage private landowners to restore and protect habitat."


Updates

Sage grouse has nothing to grouse about

 

During his 2008 presidential campaign, President Barack Obama promised to make major changes to habitat conservation programs. He promised to:

  • "Fight to increase funding for the Conservation Security Program and the major set-aside programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and Grasslands Reserve Program, so that rental rates can compete with rising commodity prices.”
  • "Direct the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to place a special emphasis on restoration of habitat for important game species associated with specific regions of the United States, such as bobwhite quail and Eastern and Osceola turkey habitat in the South, ruffed grouse habitat in the Northeast, and sage grouse and pronghorn antelope habitat in the West."
  • "Support the use of tax incentives and other financial mechanisms to encourage private landowners to restore and protect habitat."


We'll first took a look at the Obama"s promise to increase funding for the four conservation programs, and by using USDA budget and appropriation numbers, compiled the amount appropriated for each program from 2007 to 2012.

We should note that as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, the USDA did not renew the Conservation Security Program but instead created the Conservation Stewardship Program, which is very similar to the Conservation Security Program but puts more of an emphasis on expanding conservation than simply protecting what has already been conserved.

Therefore, from 2009 to 2012, we"ll combine the numbers for the security program and the stewardship program.

Program

2007 Funding

2008 Funding

2009 Funding

2010 Funding

2011 Funding

Conservation Security Program (and Conservation Stewardship Program)

$382 million

$317 million

$285 million

$612 million

$702 million

Wetlands Reserve Program

$248 million

$183 million

$436 million

$630 million

$609 million

Conservation Reserve Program

$1.9 million

$1.99 billion

$1.9 billion

$1.9 billion

$1.8 billion

Grasslands Reserve Programs

$13 million

$3 million

$48 million

$101 million

$74 million

 

The numbers show that from 2007 to 2011, three out of the four programs received funding increases ranging from $50 million to $300 million. The Conservation Reserve Program was the only exception and has seen its funding remain relatively steady from year to year.

Obama also promised to restore the habitats of game species in specific areas of the United States.

This was addressed when Obama signed a memorandum on April 16, 2010, establishing the America"s Great Outdoors Initiative, a strategy to work with public and private entities to promote wilderness conservation and preservation and raise awareness of the outdoors.

As part of the Great Outdoors Initiative, in 2010 the USDA and the Department of the Interior launched the Sage Grouse Initiative, a $94 million effort in 11 western states with a purpose to improve the population of the sage grouse, one of the species that Obama specifically mentioned in the promise.

Many projects related to the initiative have already been implemented, including the creation of grazing systems on over 1.3 million acres of land to make it easier for the sage grouse to nest. A report on the project from March 2012 said that the "additional grass cover is expected to improve sage grouse populations by 8 to 10 percent.”

Finally, Obama promised to encourage private landowners to conserve habitats through tax incentives.

The primary tax incentive for private landowners is the  Enhanced Easement Incentive, a year-by-year program that began in 2006 which allows landowners to receive tax deductions for conserving their land.

The Obama administration has endorsed the extension of the program each year since he took office. Russ Shay, the director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance, said that passing those extensions has made a major difference for the conservation of privately owned land.

Shay said that according to a survey by the Land Trust Alliance, conservation of privately owned land has increased from 750,000 acres per year in the two years before the incentive to over 1 million acres per year in the first two years since the incentive was created, an increase of over 30 percent.

Looking at the promise as a whole, the Obama administration created new programs to expand conservation areas and protect game species while extending tax incentives for private landowners to conserve habitats. The only area where Obama came up short was that one of the four programs did not have an increase in funding.

Overall, that's enough to earn a Promise Kept.

Sources:

Interview with Jeff White, national program manager for the Conservation Stewardship Program

Interview with John Kostyack, vice president for wildlife conservation at the National Wildlife Foundation.

Interview with Russ Shay, director of public policy for the Land Trust Alliance.

Reuters, "Budget plan cuts food aid, stewardship programs,” April 12, 2011.

The Washington Post, "Federal budget 2013: Agriculture spending would be cut by trimming farm subsidies,” Feb. 13, 2012.

Land Trust Alliance, "How the Easement Incentive Works,” Accessed May 2, 2012.

Land Trust Alliance, "Conservation Tax Incentive Fact Sheet,” Accessed May 2, 2012.

USDA, "Conservation Policy: Background,” Jan. 13, 2009.

USDA, "FY 2010 Budget Summary,” Accessed April 25, 2012.

USDA, "FY 2011 Budget Summary,” Accessed April 25, 2012.

USDA, "FY 2012 Budget Summary,” Accessed April 25, 2012.

USDA,  "FY 2013 President"s Budget: CCC-Funded Conservation Programs,” Feb. 13, 2012.

USDA, "Sage-Grouse Initiative Status Report, Fiscal Year 2010-2011,” March 2012.

USDA, "Sage Grouse Initiative,” February 2012.

U.S. Department of the Interior, "America"s Great Outdoors: 2011 Progress Report,” October 2011.

White House, "Presidential Memorandum - Great Outdoors Initiative,” April 16, 2010.

Obama advances some land conservation efforts, stalls on others

When Barack Obama talked about land and wildlife conservation on the campaign trail, hunters and environmentalists got excited.
 
But when Obama released his budget, it was clear land and wildlife conservation programs, such as the Wetland Reserve Program, would not be getting a boost.
 
So far, Obama's record on conservation has been a mixed bag. This particular promise deals with several well-known wildlife preservation programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, so we'll take them one by one and see where they stand.
 
The Conservation Security Program: This program is the precursor to the Conservation Stewardship Program, which was authorized for the first time in the 2008 Farm Bill. It's a program that pays farmers to conserve land. Obama allocated $234 million for the old program in his budget for those farmers who had enrolled their land in the program before it was revamped. Obama gave the Conservation Stewardship Program a substantial boost from $230 million in last year's budget to $447 million in this year's. 
 

The Conservation Reserve Program: Another initiative that pays farmers to preserve their land. Obama's budget shortchanged the program by a total of $178 million between now and 2019. Ultimately, Congress opted to fully fund the program in this year's Agriculture Department appropriations bill.
 
The Wetlands Reserve Program: This initiative, which essentially pays farmers to preserve wetlands on their lands, was cut by $26 million, down from $418 million in last year's budget. Congress eventually restored the cut through a USDA funding bill.  
 
The Grasslands Reserve Program: Obama's budget didn't touch funding for this program. As well, Congress opted to fully fund the initiative.
 
In terms of species restoration, Obama's actions have been a bit harder to track. He's championed new habitat restoration programs, such as a bill to restore the Great Lakes and full funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act , a program operated by the Department of the Interior that provides matching grants to organizations and individuals to conserve wetlands -- habitats where endangered game species are typically found. And funding from the stimulus bill has gone to specific habitat restoration projects meant to help preserve fowl and fish species .
 
This is a big promise involving several components. Obama has succeeded in fulfilling some parts, such as increasing funding for the Conservation Security Program (now the Conservation Stewardship Program), but fallen short on others. On the whole, however, he has made up more ground than he has lost. For now, we'll rate this one In the Works.

Sources:

The White House, Terminations, Reductions and Savings , accessed Dec. 30, 2009

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Some Key Sportsmen Programs Get Funding Boost in President Obama"s 2010 Budget , accessed Dec. 30, 2009

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership , Coalition Urges Congress to Support USDA Conservation Programs , accessed Dec. 30, 2009