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Conservationists: Farm Bill crucial to future access to IL wildlife habitat

A hunter lines up a shot with his bow in the woods
Illinois News Connection

As Congress prepares to start work on a new Farm Bill this week, hunters and anglers say billions of dollars in investments in private-lands conservation are at stake.

The previous Farm Bill expired last year but was given a one-year extension until this Sept. 30. It is an omnibus, multiyear law governing agricultural and food programs, including habitat conservation.

Mark Kenyon, outdoorsman, author and filmmaker at the media production company MeatEater, said the outcome of the bill is crucial for access to lands and waterways in Illinois and other Midwestern states.

"Historically, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana; these states had prairie, they had oak savannas, a lot of open ground, the kind of habitat that supports a lot of wildlife," Kenyon pointed out. "Most of that has disappeared, transformed by agriculture."

The last five-year Farm Bill was approved in 2018, but a renewal effort stalled in Congress last year. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to begin marking up the bill later this week. Kenyon emphasized the bill contains crucial policy and funding changes certain to affect access to fish and wildlife habitat for five years and beyond.

Kenyon noted a key provision of the bill is to fund private land conservation through a plan to pay farmers and other landowner to convert portions of their cropland to a land trust for wildlife habitat. He stressed there is a lot at stake.

"It's known as the Conservation Title, and this piece of the Farm Bill allocates something around $6 billion a year to conservation programs," Kenyon explained. "So this is no joke, this is actually the largest funding source annually for conservation programs in the nation."

Aaron Field, director of private lands conservation for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said most of the bill's conservation programs are funded by the hunters and anglers who will use the preserved lands and waterways.

"The system by which we fund wildlife conservation in this country is heavily dependent on the contributions of hunters and anglers," Field asserted. "Hunters and anglers pay excise taxes every time they purchase hunting or fishing equipment."

Mark has more than 30 years as a professional journalist, working for newspapers, magazines, radio/TV, and digital media.
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