A diverse group of sportsmen, scientists, and conservation and agricultural organizations delivered two letters to Representatives Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) this week in support of the Protect Our Prairies Act (H.R. 5879).
Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced the legislation in late May as a marker bill. Marker bills are introduced with the intention of working the language into upcoming legislation — in this case, the Farm Bill — rather than taking a vote on the marker bill itself.
The first letter, delivered by more than 60 organizations including NSAC, states:
The Protect Our Prairies Act would enact nationwide “Sodsaver” protection to reduce taxpayer-funded incentives to destroy critical grassland resources. Most of the land that is being converted from native ecosystems to cropland is marginal, highly erodible, or prone to flooding. These environmentally sensitive lands and the species that depend on them are rapidly disappearing. In addition to providing wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, erosion control, and other ecological benefits, native grasslands are a critical component of America’s ranching economy[…] The undersigned organizations applaud Representatives Noem and Walz for their leadership in preserving grazing land, ranching opportunities, and critical wildlife habitat and other natural resources through the Protect Our Prairies Act. We strongly urge you to include this provision in the 2012 Farm Bill.
The second letter, delivered by sportsmen groups and the National Rifle Association, argues that “Sodsaver encourages responsible stewardship of our nation’s native grasslands and directs program benefits to acreage best-suited for crop production.” The letter continues:
We strongly believe it is vital that the 2012 Farm Bill include effective economic and risk support programs, while maintaining effective conservation measures like Sodsaver. Doing so will promote continued stewardship and sustainability of America’s farmlands and foster production of crops, clean water and abundant populations of fish and wildlife. We strongly encourage you to include the Protect Our Prairies Act in your farm bill mark.
The Protect Our Prairies Act mirrors a Sodsaver amendment filed by Senators Thune (R-SD), Brown (D-OH), and Johanns (R-NE), and included in the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240). According to the Congressional Budget Office, the provision would save taxpayers $194 million over ten years.
Importantly, both letters call for a national rather than regional Sodsaver provision. Both the Protect Our Prairies Act and the Senate farm bill include a national provision.
However, the draft House farm bill released today by the House Agriculture Committee leadership would limit sodsaver protection to the prairie pothole national priority area and not to the whole country. Given that both the loss of native prairie and the benefits that grasslands provide (clean water, carbon sequestration, waterfowl production) are national in scope, and given the huge fairness issue in applying the new rules to only certain landowners in certain portions of certain states and not to all other agricultural landowners, NSAC strongly opposes this watering down of the Sodsaver legislation.