Conserving Habitat Through the Federal Farm Bill, a Guide for Land Trusts and Landowners

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The 2008 Farm Bill offers more incentives than ever to help private landowners conserve and improve farms, ranches, prairies, wetlands and forests. And whether you’re interested in protecting wildlife habitat or rural lifestyles from the threat of development, restoring stream flows for better trout fishing or making your agricultural practices more sustainable, the Farm Bill has programs to help you.

The Beneficiaries: Private Lands and Wildlife
Private agricultural landowners are the primary recipients of Farm Bill conservation funds. With more than two-thirds of the continental United States privately owned and man- aged—most as working farms, ranches and forests (Fig. 1)—the majority of the U.S. land base is eligible for Farm Bill dollars. Not only do these working lands provide the critical life support systems we depend on such as food, fiber, clean air and water, but they are also absolutely essential to fish and wildlife populations. The same features that make land ideal for agriculture and human settlement—gentle topog- raphy, fertile soils and close proximity to water—also provide excellent habitat. In fact, private lands support more species diversity than either state or federally protected conservation lands,1 and our stewardship of these lands will ultimately determine the fate of many vulnerable populations.

Farm Bill conservation programs are not just about farming.
Many of the conservation practices included in the programs are specifically aimed at preserving, enhancing and restoring wildlife and ecosystem integrity. Many other common agri- cultural practices funded through the Farm Bill, such as cover crops and nutrient management, have secondary benefits to wildlife through healthier waters, air and soil. In reality, most practices in the Farm Bill conservation programs have habitat benefits, and savvy use of the programs can maximize these benefits.