Tag Archive | "subsidies"

Grassland Conversions Threaten Lesser Prairie Chicken

Grassland Conversions Threaten Lesser Prairie Chicken

LPC Habitat conversion map

Lesser prairie chicken habitat on converted acres. Copyright Environmental Working Group.

The lesser prairie chicken, one of our nation’s iconic grassland birds known for its unique breeding behavior, is also one of our most at-risk species. A new report released by Defenders of Wildlife and Environmental Working Group shows that increased crop insurance subsidies are threatening to convert even more of the grasslands that these birds need to survive.

To read more about lesser prairie chickens and farm subsidies, see our fact sheet.

Lesser prairie chickens rely on a diversity of grassland habitats, including short- and mid-height grasses and forbs together with shrubs to provide cover. Loss of this diverse habitat is one of the biggest threats to the lesser prairie chicken’s continued survival.  As a result, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided in 1998 that the species warranted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  Unless the situation improves for the prairie chicken, it may become federally protected by next fall as part of the Service’s six-year plan to issue final listing decisions for over 250 candidate species.

Based on our report, “Plowed Under: How Crop Subsidies Contribute to Massive Habitat Losses,” more than 1.5 million acres of habitat have been converted to cropland in counties where the lesser prairie chicken is found between 2008 and 2011. This is despite investments by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). In FY11, NRCS spent $11 million on improving land management and increasing and enhancing lesser prairie chicken habitat on 458,000 acres. However successful these activities are, even these investments won’t be enough to stem the loss of lesser prairie chicken habitat given the current rate of conversion.

Although the fate of the 2012 Farm Bill is currently up in the air, one thing is certain: increasing crop insurance subsidies without requiring basic environmental protections creates incentives for farmers to plow up more grassland and wetlands. The Senate passed a bi-partisan amendment to its Farm Bill that attaches basic environmental requirements to crop insurance subsidies. To protect the lesser prairie chicken and our nation’s other iconic wildlife, conservation compliance must be included in any Farm Bill Congress passes in 2012.

Posted in Agriculture, Imperiled WildlifeComments (0)

Reforming Crop Insurance Subsidies – Good News for Conservation

Reforming Crop Insurance Subsidies – Good News for Conservation

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has some creative ideas about how to make the 2012 Farm Bill less expensive and more efficient – and in some cases, that could also make the 2012 Farm Bill better for conservation. In its recently released series on the 2012 Farm Bill called “American Boondoggle: Fixing the 2012 Farm Bill,” AEI presents ideas on everything from consolidating conservation title programs to increasing support for agricultural research and development. Perhaps one of the best ideas for reform is on crop insurance.

In his paper for AEI, “Premium Payments: Why Crop Insurance Costs Too Much,” Vincent Smith lays out the history of crop insurance in the U.S. and how a once essential program to assist Dust Bowl farmers ballooned into an average of $5.6 billion per year in government subsidies. Most consumers understand the importance of insurance to protect assets and on its face, it makes sense that farmers who depend on selling their crops and livestock for their livelihood would want to insure these assets in case of natural disaster or higher than usual losses. Unlike the types of insurance that most consumers are familiar with like auto insurance or homeowners insurance, the government subsidizes the cost of farmers’ premiums AND the expenses that insurance companies accrue in selling crop insurance policies AND the amount that companies have to pay farmers for crop losses.

Why is this important to those of who care about wildlife? Current crop insurance policies promote a food production system that has many adverse environmental impacts. Crop insurance subsidies as they exist now create incentives to farm marginal cropland, which in turn can contribute to environmental degradation associated with soil erosion and run-off. They also have been shown to promote plowing of some of America’s last native prairies.

One reform that Smith recommends is to replace the complex products offered now with weather-based insurance products that would still cover farmers’ weather-related losses but through a simpler, less expensive system. This kind of reform would also minimize incentives for “moral hazard behavior,” such as planting on marginal cropland.

Finally, although Smith doesn’t mention it in his paper, the 2012 Farm Bill should reform crop insurance to include conservation compliance provisions requiring farmers receiving crop insurance subsidies to implement practices that prevent soil erosion and minimize wetland loss.

Posted in AgricultureComments (0)

Federal Subsidies for Members of Congress

The Environmental Working Group broke its latest story on the 23 Members of Congress (or their spouses) who are recipients of U.S. agriculture subsidies .  Between 1995 and 2009, six Democrats received an estimated $489,000 in payments and 17 Republicans received $5.3 million.

Combining EWG’s report with the Center for Responsive Politics database tracking the personal fortunes of Members of Congress, you can see that there are more than a dozen members with a net worth of more than a million dollars also receiving agriculture subsidies.  Of note, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) and her husband likely received more than $460,000 in support and Iowa Congressman Tom Latham received $330,000.  Their average net worth was $8.4 million and $5.3 million, respectively.

You can listen to Congresswoman Harzler talk to ABC News about her farm subsidies here .

Posted in AgricultureComments (0)

dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.