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Hunting, fishing interests weigh in on farm bill

Farmers and nutrition advocates aren't the only groups lobbying for a farm bill. So are groups that represent the $100 billion-a-year hunting and fishing industry.

"Our top priority right now is to get as farm bill this year," said Steve Kline, director of the Center for Agricultural and Private Lands for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

The Partnership represents 1,400 hunting and fishing groups that are already influential--including Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, and the Izaak Walton League of America -- and it has 35,000 individual advocates.

Kline says his group, like others that support conservation programs, has been willing to go along with cuts to conservation spending that are part of about $23 billion in overall savings projected over the next 10 years if the Senate's version of a farm bill becomes law.

"It's never an easy thing to take $6.4 billion in cuts," Kline told recently. But because the Senate bill preserves key conservation programs, his group hopes that higher levels of support for conservation may be possible when the economy recovers.

The group is also pleased that the Senate bill continues a small program from the 2008 farm bill that offers support to states with voluntary public access programs to encourage public hunting and fishing. Kline said the Senate bill authorizes $40 million in spending on another public access program.

The farm bill also continues big programs that benefit outdoor recreation, such as habitat benefits that come with the Conservation Reserve Program.

If the current bill expires and isn't renewed this year, several small conservation programs,  including the Wetlands Reserve Program, would likely run out of funding. Unlike the CRP, spending is not authorized for these programs after 2012. An extension of the current law would likely put those programs at risk.

"Right now, given the work the Senate has done, it could get a lot worse if we kick the can down the road," Kline said.

Kline said his group is also pleased that sodsaver legislation appears to have support in both the Senate and the House.

The Senate bill includes a proposal from Senator John Thune (R-SD) that would cut the amount of crop insurance farmers and ranchers would get for crops planted on native prairie and other grasslands not previously cropped.

And recently Representatives Kristi Noem (R-SD) and Tim Walz (D-MN) introduced similar legislation in the House. Both are members of the House Agriculture Committee.

The bill would cut subsidy premiums in half for crops planted on fragile land broken out of grass.

"We think this is a big deal," Kline said. "We certainly applaud Kristi Noem and Tim Walz for their leadership."

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