This guide was prepared for fish and wildlife conservation practitioners so they can better understand the Farm Bill and how it can be used in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), landowners, and producers for the conservation of fish and wildlife habitat and other ecosystem services.
Private lands are vitally important to the conservation of fish and wildlife in the U.S. because they constitute approximately 70 percent of the land ownership in the lower 48 states. In addition, 50 percent (890 million acres) of land base in the contiguous U.S. is managed as cropland, pastureland, and rangeland. The U.S. Congress recognizes the importance of farm policy to ensure the long-term sustainability of many wildlife populations and emphasized that in the passage of the 1985 Food Security Act (Public Law 99-198) and its amendments of 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008, which all include significant conservation programs.
The Farm Bill is not just about wildlife habitat, but also addresses other resource concerns such as soil, water, energy, and air. However, it is one of the most important tools enacted by Congress for restoring, enhancing, and protecting habitat on private lands and, in some cases, public lands that private landowners have control over as part of their agricultural operations. Habitat also protects the soil and water and supports the pollinators that sustain agricultural systems.
As the number of voluntary incentive-based conservation programs has increased since the 1985 Farm Bill, so have the amount of funds authorized to further conservation on private lands. The 2008 Farm Bill authorized approximately $23 billion for a five-year period.
Farm Bill conservation programs are administered by the USDA primarily through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). However, these agencies work in close collaboration with a variety of partners such as conservation districts, state fish and wildlife agencies, U.S. Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), USDA Forest Service (USFS), and non-government organizations. The most important partners are the private landowners and producers that provide the landscapes on which these programs are implemented to further conservation objectives.