As drought continues across America today, President Obama and I are committed to taking every possible step to help farmers and ranchers, businesses, and communities recover when disaster strikes.
Meanwhile, it is disappointing to many in rural America that Congress has not taken action on a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that would give rural families more certainty in a tough time. I continue to remind folks in Washington that we need a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible to keep rural America growing in the years to come.
Especially in a time of drought, we’re reminded of the great importance that conservation of our natural resources plays in the lives of all Americans – and today USDA continues its record efforts to conserve, restore, and protect America’s land and water.
Since 2009 USDA has partnered with more than half a million private landowners to enroll a record number of acres in conservation programs. We’ve accelerated protection of critical wetlands, enrolling more than 800,000 acres in programs to enhance water availability.
And we have offered producers multiple new opportunities to utilize the Conservation Reserve Program to retire marginal agricultural lands, restore grasslands and forests, and protect valuable wildlife habitat.
Since 2009 USDA has initiated new, large-scale efforts to protect natural areas, including farms, ranches and forestland, in partnership with producers and landowners. These include efforts to protect water supplies in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, restoring National Forest lands in the west to make these forests healthier and more resilient to forest fires and other threats, and working with ranchers to conserve thousands of acres of wetlands that will help protect Florida’s Everglades.
We’ve also taken action to be sure producers who work hard to implement conservation practices can count on our programs. For example, USDA and the Department of Interior recently partnered to announce an effort called Working Lands for Wildlife that provides landowners with incentives to protect endangered wildlife, along with the certainty that they can keep earning a living farming, ranching and managing their forests.
Finally, we’re always focused on new and better ways to give farmers and ranchers tools to conserve the land. We’re pioneering new conservation markets that will compensate farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners for cleaner water, better wildlife habitat, and improved land stewardship practices. These emerging markets hold the promise to benefit landowners and the environment.
And through the Conservation Innovation Grants program, since 2009 USDA has provided more than 200 grants to support new technology and innovation such as methane digesters that turn waste into renewable energy. We also recently modified the program to help fund conservation work to help landowners address drought.
Ultimately, by improving our forests, waterways, farmland and fields, USDA will help landowners and land conservation at the same time. We’ll continue to create sustainable jobs in rural areas. And we will help protect America’s natural resources for generations to come.