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Agricultural Programs Benefit Wildlife

By Sal Palazzolo - Idaho Department of Fish and Game We are all aware of the heated battles taking place in Washington D.C. and around the nation regarding reducing federal spending and cutting government programs. The conversations are full of arguments and generalized statements that often miss the finer details of a program or bill. As we all know, the devil is in the details, and a 30-second sound bite never explains the whole story. People may or may not be aware that Idaho's wildlife benefit greatly from some of these federal programs. One of the biggest is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and its program, State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement. This program reimburses farmers to take marginally-productive and highly erodible cropland voluntarily out of grain production and plant it to permanent vegetation, which provides "ecological services." So what are "ecological services?" That sounds like a fancy way of covering up a financial boondoggle. These acres provide many services to the public: Wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion, increased water quality and filtration, carbon sequestration, improved air quality, economic certainty to rural communities, recreational opportunities, and the list goes on. In my years of working on these programs I have heard many derogatory sound bites related to these programs, most follow the line that the government is paying farmers to "do nothing with their land." This couldn't be further from the truth. Receiving federal dollars to help improve wildlife habitat in Idaho is a good deal. The landowner is still required to manage these lands to ensure they meet program requirements, and while not producing grain on these acres, what they produce is just as important to society, Idaho and the nation. What are the numbers in Idaho? Idaho has about 700,000 acres enrolled in CRP. These acres provide habitat to many of the game species we enjoy, such as pheasants, quail, mule deer, elk and grouse as well as non-games species and habitat for threatened and endangered species. The State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement program in Idaho continues to grow. Idaho is nearing the state's allocation cap of 94,300 acres. The program is designed to provide habitat for the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, which has been petitioned twice under the Endangered Species Act. These acres also provide habitat for sage grouse, pheasants, mule deer and a host of non-game species. Idaho's State Acres For Wildlife Enhancement program recently became the largest in the nation with more acres enrolled than any other state. In addition to the habitat they provide, these acres provide recreational opportunities through hunting, fishing, wildlife watching or just quiet enjoyment for thousands of people across the state. This results in people spending money in the rural towns near these lands and continuing the outdoor traditions and lifestyle many Idaho residents enjoy. Sal Palazzolo is the private land/ Farm Bill program manager for Idaho Fish and Game.