USDA is seeking comments on six Natural Resources and Conservation Service programs, giving producers and others the opportunity to provide input into shaping the 2008 farm bill's conservation programs.
USDA is asking for comments on the following Natural Resources and Conservation Farm Bill Programs:
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP): The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is USDA's largest conservation program for working lands. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that provides technical assistance and payments to help crop and livestock producers address environmental concerns through conservation improvements.
Some of the program's benefits include improved soil, water and air quality and enhanced wildlife habitat.
USDA is seeking public comment on EQIP through March 16.
Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP): The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is a voluntary conservation program that protects productive agricultural land. The program provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm and ranchland in agricultural uses.
Working through existing programs, USDA partners with state, tribal, or local governments and non-governmental organizations to acquire conservation easements or other interests in land from landowners.
USDA will provide up to 50 percent of the appraised fair market value of the conservation easement. Since 1996, FRPP has enrolled 600,000 acres on 300 farms and ranches in 49 states.
USDA is seeking public comments through March 17.
Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP): The 2008 farm bill reauthorized and amended the Wetlands Reserve Program. It assists landowners in restoring their land to a natural wetland condition. The program gives emphasis on priority wildlife habitat and environmental benefits.
Through USDA, the Wetlands Reserve Program provides technical and financial assistance to eligible landowners to address wetland, wildlife habitat, soil, water, and related natural resource concerns on private agricultural land. To date more than 2 million acres have been enrolled in the program.
Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP): The Healthy Forests Reserve Program was signed into law as part of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 and was reauthorized by the new farm bill. The Healthy Forests Reserve Program allows landowners to restore and enhance forest ecosystems to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, improve biodiversity, reduce the risk of catastrophic fire, and enhance carbon sequestration.
The period for public comments will close on or before Feb. 13.
Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP): A voluntary conservation program, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program provides financial and technical assistance to private landowners to develop and improve high quality habitat for fish and wildlife on private agricultural lands, non-industrial private forest lands, and Indian lands. Producers receive assistance to develop upland, wetland, riparian and aquatic habitat areas on their property.
USDA can pay up to 75 percent of the cost to apply or install conservation practices for permanent fish and wildlife habitat.
Public comments on the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program must be submitted by March 17.
Technical Service Provider Process: Finally, USDA is seeking public comment on changes to the Technical Service Provider Process. The 2008 farm bill increased the availability and range of technical expertise available to producers to plan and implement conservation practices.
Technical service providers are individuals, private businesses, non-profit organizations or public agencies outside of USDA, who have the expertise to develop conservation plans and perform selected compliance studies. They can plan, design and layout conservation practices, as well as check out completed practices.
Public comments must be submitted by March 17.
The public comments will be used to finalize the interim final rule. USDA will then publish a final rule, which will incorporate statutory changes and establish each program's policy for the life of the 2008 farm bill.