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Conservation Pressure Mounts Against CRP Land

10 July 2008

US - Fifteen conservation groups today sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer strongly urging him to reject pressure from Congress and producer groups "to allow the penalty-free early release of land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)."

USDA has been urged to release up to 24 million acres from CRP -- roughly three-fourths of the land currently enrolled in the program -- and put it back into production. This move would result in a loss of billions of dollars of taxpayer investment in conservation on these lands.

"A penalty-free early release of the magnitude you are considering - millions of acres - would deliver a devastating blow to the nation's soil, water, and wildlife habitat, and significantly increase global warming," said the letter. "Because most CRP lands are marginal for cropping, even if all CRP acres were brought back into commodity production, the impact on aggregate commodity supplies and prices would be modest... We urge you to protect the taxpayers' investment in soil quality, water quality, and wildlife habitat and not allow landowners to leave CRP contracts early without fully reimbursing the Treasury for the taxpayer-funded investment in those lands."

CRP is a federal program designed to reward farmers who take fragile land out of production and plant grasses or trees or restore wetlands on the land in exchange for rental and federal cost-share payments. Currently, CRP enrollees who terminate their contract prior to the end of its 10- to 15-year term must reimburse the federal government for the rental and cost-share payments they have received, plus interest, and a penalty of 25 percent of the total rental payments received. The recent CRP proposals would waive all these costs for landowners.

The letter opposing these proposals is signed by Environmental Defense Fund, The Minnesota Project, Sierra Club, Center for Native Ecosystems, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Partners for Sustainable Pollination, Environmental Working Group, Pollinator Partnership, Defenders of Wildlife, American Farmland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, American Rivers, Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and American Bee Keeping Federation.

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