Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Unions Take Unprecedented Farm Bill Stance, Ask Congress to Grow Conservation

Unions Take Unprecedented Farm Bill Stance, Ask Congress to Grow Conservation

Union sportsmen urge support for conservation programs, inclusion of “Open Fields” provision in Farm Bill

For Immediate Release

Tim Zink, 202-654-4625,


More than 3 million hunters and anglers in unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO today called on members of Congress to adequately fund key Farm Bill conservation programs and to include a measure that would allow states to establish or expand private land hunting and fishing access programs.

In a joint letter signed by 17 unions (full text of Senate version follows), the unions urge Congress to follow the Farm Bill policy recommendations of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group (AWWG). The AWWG recommendations are contained in a comprehensive report, entitled Growing Conservation in the Farm Bill, that already has been submitted to Congress.

In their letter, the unions contend: “These recommendations show how the United States can make conservation a new priority when Congress reauthorizes the Farm Bill in 2007. The conservation of our natural resources is very important to our union members who hunt, fish and recreate in the outdoors, and they fully support the recommendations in this report.”

The heart of the report’s recommendations are calls for robust funding for several key programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program, Grassland Reserve Program and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program. The group also recommends improving the effectiveness and efficiency of these programs, and calls for the inclusion of an Open Fields provision in the Farm Bill, to be modeled on legislation championed by Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota that was originally introduced in the 109th Congress and quickly generated more than 50 co-sponsors. An updated version of the Open Fields Bill is expected to be introduced in Congress in the very near future.

In its current form, Open Fields would provide $20 million in federal funding for states to establish and expand private land “walk-in” access programs for hunters and anglers. Such programs already exist in 20 states and have been extremely successful, opening up 26 million acres to sportsmen. They provide voluntary incentives to private landowners who open their property for public use, primarily for hunting. Remarkably cost-effective, these programs directly address declines in hunter and angler numbers felt across the U.S. in the last decade.

“With the loss of places to hunt and fish leading the list of reasons that active sportsmen become former sportsmen, we see Open Fields as a way to improve the quality of life for many of our members,” said Kinsey Robinson, International President of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers. “Open Fields also will be an economic stimulator for local economies nationwide. To gauge how much sportsmen’s dollars matter to rural life, just drive through America’s Heartland and note all the hotels and restaurants with banners welcoming hunters.”

Recognizing that improving sportsmen’s access to farms and ranches is only worthwhile if those farms and ranches have high quality fish and wildlife habitat, the unions urge Congress to sustain and grow programs like CRP that have made it possible for millions of landowners to make millions of acres of private land more fish and wildlife friendly.

“The unions’ entry into the public debate on how to grow conservation in the Farm Bill marks a significant event in our community’s evolution,” said George Cooper, President and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which earlier this year announced the launch of a new, union-dedicated program within the TRCP – the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA). “We are adding the voices of millions of American union-sportsmen to the process of shaping a piece of legislation that is of highest importance to all hunters and anglers. It must be recognized that this Farm Bill is being crafted in a very challenging budget climate, and unless we impress upon our leaders how much these conservation programs matter to us, they could face serious cuts. By weighing in on the importance of conservation and access, these unions are helping us ensure that members of Congress know just how critical the Conservation Title of the Farm Bill is to the nation’s sportsmen-conservationists.”

Inspired by the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, the TRCP is a coalition of organizations and grassroots partners working together to preserve the traditions of hunting and fishing.