by Traci Bruckner, Center for Rural Affairs, email@example.com
The next farm bill should strive to make better use of conservation programs to make rural communities more attractive places to live and visit. The rural communities that have grown are largely those with environmental amenities – lakes and mountains. In the future, uncrowded natural space may become a key environmental amenity, one many farm and ranch communities could provide.
What if, for example, our land retirement based conservation programs provided bonus payments for enrollments that allowed public access as part of a community development plan? It could provide the basis for some tourism-based small businesses – such as bed and breakfasts and other agri- and eco-tourism enterprises.
We had hoped that the Conservation Partnerships and Cooperation Program in the 2002 farm bill would serve these purposes, but its statutory language was very general and never implemented by USDA. They instead implemented their own version that did not reflect the original intent of the provision. We propose it be replaced with language as follows:
The Secretary shall make bonus payments of up to 50 percent for enrollments in the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Grassland Reserve Program under the following conditions:
- the enrollment is certified by a state or local unit of government or Resource Conservation and Development District as consistent with its plan to develop natural space
and habitat as a community development asset;
- the land is restored to native plant species and habitat for native animal species; and
the land owner provides public access to the enrolled land.
The Community Conservation Program would not require separate funding. The cost of bonus payments would be built into the cost of the Conservation Reserve, Wetlands Reserve, and Grasslands Reserve Programs.
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Center for Rural Affairs
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