Washington, D.C. — With the deadline for passage of the next farm bill approaching, a new report from the Center for American Progress and the R Street Institute says the measure could help leverage billions of dollars of private investment into conservation.
The farm bill represents the largest single source of conservation funding in the country; roughly $5 billion is allocated annually through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These funds support voluntary efforts to conserve wildlife habitat, to use fertilizer more efficiently, and to protect wetlands and streams. Yet these efforts remain persistently underfunded despite a need to improve water quality, address climate change, and protect threatened species.
“We know that upwards of $3 billion in private capital is available for conservation but still waiting for projects that are ready for investment,” said Ryan Richards, senior policy analyst for Public Lands at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report. “In other words, there is incredible, untapped potential that the farm bill has the opportunity to unlock. Our two organizations came together to help underscore the fact that conservation investment offers a smart, practical solution that lawmakers from both sides of the aisle can get behind.”
In addition to highlighting the importance of maintaining funding for USDA conservation programs, the report includes several recommendations for the reauthorization of the farm bill, including enabling pay-for-success contracting; supporting market-based conservation programs; and increasing investment in research on the economic benefits of conservation and the design of conservation programs.
“New markets for things like water quality and habitat conservation are still in their infancy, and it’s USDA support that will help them become established,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute. “These tools are currently underutilized; they can help close the gap in conservation support by spurring innovation and creating new incentives for good environmental behavior.”
Read the report “Fertile Ground: Using the 2018 Farm Bill to Grow Investment in Private Lands Conservation” by Ryan Richards, Mary Ellen Kustin, William Murray, and Caroline Kitchens.
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