Outdoors

Farm Bill Gives Birds a Boost

There appears to be plenty in the bill that will benefit hunters and anglers

It was Otto von Bismarck, the 19th century statesman who served as chancellor of what was the first unified German state, who said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

Bismarck’s warning was that lawmaking is a messy business that includes plenty of scraps and other additives the citizenry would rather not know about. It’s an apt description of the lawmaking process, though I’d like to tack on an addendum: if the legislative process resembles sausage making, lame-duck session legislating is the equivalent of making blood sausage.

For the record, I’ve made sausage a few times, and there’s nothing about my process I feel obliged to hide from tube-meat loving friends. Also, while I’ve never made blood sausage, I’ve tried it a time or two and my biggest takeaway is that the sausage is nowhere near as horrible as its name. Actually, it’s quite tasty.

Bismarck’s time-tested wisdom has been confirmed by the ages. Whether time will confirm similar status on my blood-sausage analogy for lame-duck legislating, well, only time will tell. But you get the point: lame-duck sessions are a messy business. The recent headlines from states across the country have certainly confirmed as much.

Still, lame ducks aren’t entirely worthless. With time counting down on a legislative session, a sense of urgency to finish that which has so far been left unfinished sometimes overcomes the instinct against bipartisan collaboration. Suddenly, what seemed unresolvable before Election Day can be left aside for the newly elected to deal with.

What do we see when lame-duck legislators put political gamesmanship aside and focus on their constituents? Sometimes we get decent legislation like the Farm Bill, which passed both houses of Congress last week with overwhelming bipartisan support. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law, if he hasn’t already.

I don’t know all the details of the bill, and some of the scraps are surely less palatable than others, but there appears to be plenty that will benefit hunters and anglers. Most noteworthy, the bill funds a 3-million-acre expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, from 24 to 27 million acres by 2023. That increase isn’t as big as some would have liked, but it arrests a decline in CRP that began in 2007 when the program topped out at more than 36.7 million acres.

There are about 1.4 million acres of CRP in Montana, down from almost 3.5 million in 2006. Most of Montana’s CRP lands are east of the divide, but western Montanans will still benefit from improved pheasant and waterfowl numbers, so long as they’re prepared to do a little driving.

The bill also provides funding for programs such as the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, the Working Lands for Wildlife Program and the Agricultural and Conservation Easement Program.

Another provision in the bill creates the new Soil Health and Income Protection Program, which will assist landowners with conserving and improving soil, water and wildlife resources in the prairie pothole region that includes parts of eastern Montana.

The breeding grounds of the prairie pothole region is essentially where North America’s ducks come from.

The land entered into CRP benefits other game species, including the troubled sage grouse. It also improves water quality and soil conservation by taking marginal, highly erodible land out of production, while giving farmers compensation for their efforts.

The Farm Bill had been hung up on a dispute regarding work requirements for recipients of food stamps, which, yes, are administered by the Department of Agriculture. Neither party was able to prevail, so the issue was punted down the road for the next Congress to sort out.

Not quite blood sausage, but at least the lame duck didn’t lay an egg.

Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.