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Commending South Dakota Farm, Conservation, Wildlife, And Environmental Groups

Sen. Tim Johnson

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Mr. President, I rise today to offer sincere thanks and gratitude for the cooperation and leadership demonstrated this year in South Dakota by a large coalition of farm, conservation, wildlife, and environmental groups in my great State. These groups have taken an almost unprecedented step to cooperate in solving a problem concerning the treatment of wetlands in the context of production agriculture in South Dakota.

Their cooperation led to the adoption of a pilot project--the Conservation of Farmable Wetland Act of 2000--negotiated through Congress by Senator Daschle and me whereby farmed wetlands in a six-state region can become eligible for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

When it comes to conservation policy and the federal farm program, many issues are hotly debated. Perhaps nowhere has this become more evident than in the administration and policy implications of managing wetlands on farmground in South Dakota and the entire country. A real battle over the management of farmed wetlands has waged over the years between farmers--who own and farm the productive land where these wetlands are located--and conservation groups--who believe these wetlands should be maintained in their natural state.

Earlier this year, over thirty South Dakota groups struck an agreement in principle regarding the treatment of wetlands with some constructive ideas to signify a cease fire of sorts in this battle over the management of wetlands. Their agreement in principle expressed support for financial assistance for farmers and landowners who voluntarily chose to commit the wetlands on their private lands--primarily land in crop production--to conservation under CRP. The farmable wetlands targeted in their agreement are located in low-lying draws or waterways that run through crop fields and carry runoff and topsoil into creeks and rivers in wet years. In dry years, these wetlands are farmed. Currently, grass filter strips surrounding these farmed wetlands qualify for CRP, but not the actual wetland acreage.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the agreement in principle and name of every group signing the agreement be printed at this point in the Record, and that my statement continue in the Record at the conclusion of the agreement in principle and list of groups.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

Sierra Club-East River Group; Sierra Club-Living River Group; South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts; South Dakota Corn Growers

Department of Game, Fish and Parks; South Dakota Farm Bureau; South

Society, South Dakota Chapter; Turner County Conservation District;

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Vermillion Basin Water Development

This memorandum is made by the organizations listed above, hereinafter called the partners, to express support for financial assistance to landowners who voluntarily choose to maintain wetlands on private lands and retire them from crop production in the Prairie Pothole Region of South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Montana. The people of this partnership are united in their belief that programs should be available that compensate landowners who voluntarily commit their wetlands to conservation. We offer specific suggestions that certain wetlands be eligible for enrollment under the USDA Conservation Reserve Program, continuous sign up for buffers and filter strips and that incidental, after harvest grazing be better accommodated on these filter strips and buffers.

south dakota crp-wetlands agreement in principle signatories

Roger Strom, Clay County Conservation District. Jerry Schmitz, Clay County Farm Bureau. Lloyd Jones, Delta Waterfowl Foundation. Jeff Nelson, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. Jay Gilbertson, East Dakota Water Development District. Wes Hansen, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. Ken Madison, Izaak Walton League, Kempeska Chapter. Chuck Clayton, Izaak Walton League, South Dakota Division. Darrell Raschke, James River Water Development District. Genevieve Thompson, National Audubon Society. Jeanie Chamness, Sierra Club, East River Group. John Davidson, Sierra Club, Living River Group. Gerald Thaden, South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts. Ron Olson, South Dakota Corn Growers Association. Darrell Cruea, South Dakota Department of Agriculture. Nettie Myers, South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources. John Cooper, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks. Michael Held, South Dakota Farm Bureau. Dennis Wiese, South Dakota Farmers Union. Ron Ogren, South Dakota Grassland Coalition. Don Marquart, South Dakota Lakes and Streams Association, Inc. Mari Beth Baumberger, South Dakota Pork Producers Council. Lawrence Novotny, South Dakota Resources Coalition. Delbert Tschakert, South Dakota Soybean Association. Bart Blum, South Dakota Stockgrowers. Rick Vallery, South Dakota Wheat, Inc. Chris Hesla, South Dakota Wildlife Federation. Ron Schauer, Wildlife Society, South Dakota Chapter. Dennis Johnson, Turner County Conservation District. Carl Madsen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Amond Hanson, Vermillion Basin Water Development District. Lester Austin, Vermillion River Watershed Authority. David Hauschild, Central Planes Water Development District and South Dakota Water Congress.

Sen. Tim Johnson

legislator photo

Mr. President, given that over thirty groups and several more individuals were active participants in this historic agreement in South Dakota--it is impossible to aptly recognize every single one that deserves credit for this achievement. However, I cannot overlook the efforts of two real champions of this agreement and pilot project--two individuals who worked closely with me to make sure their idea developed from a South Dakota agreement to a six-state pilot project that the 106th Congress enacted and that the President will sign into law.

Paul Shubeck, a Centerville, South Dakota farmer and Carl Madsen, a Brookings, South Dakota private lands coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service developed this plan and helped negotiate its path through Congress.

Paul Shubeck greatly impressed me with his ability to shepherd this proposal, not only within a diverse coalition of South Dakota groups who normally do not tend to agree on wetlands matters, but also at the national level where he consistently advocated on behalf of the American family farmer who just wants a chance to produce a crop on his land and protect the environment all at the same time. Paul's drive and ability to compromise were key to the success of our pilot project.

Carl Madsen was a real source of passion for this project and provided us with a sense for the big picture--how our pilot would and could work in South Dakota and other parts of the United States. Carl's deep knowledge of wetlands and conservation policy provided us with critical technical assistance to ensure this pilot project was a credible, practical program.

Many, many more individuals and groups in South Dakota and the United States provided direct assistance to this effort Mr. President, and I want them all to know I am deeply grateful.

Earlier this year Mr. President, Senator Daschle and I urged Secretary Dan Glickman and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to implement the South Dakota agreement in principle on an administrative basis. While USDA was supportive of the concept, they were reluctant to implement such a program without a clearer understanding of the purpose and implications of the program.

In response, on July 7, I brought a top USDA official to a farm near Renner, South Dakota where we met with several groups and individuals to discuss how to conserve these critical wetlands yet compensate farmers for taking the wetlands out of crop production. It was there that some suggested a pilot project would be the best route to take. Then, on July 27, Senator Daschle and I introduced S. 2980 to create a South Dakota pilot project permitting up to 150,000 acres of farmable wetlands into CRP.

Once S. 2980 was introduced, national conservation, wildlife, and farm organizations took interest and requested that we expand the pilot to cover more than South Dakota. The proposal adopted by Congress is the result of weeks of negotiations between Senator Daschle, myself, USDA, Senator Lugar who serves as the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and several national groups who now support the pilot. The changes resulted in expanding this program to the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States, including South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Montana. It is limited to 500,000 acres in those states, with an assurance that access be distributed fairly among interested CRP participants.

I truly believe this pilot project will provide landowners an alternative to farming these highly sensitive wetlands in order to achieve a number of benefits including; improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, enhanced wildlife habitat, preserved biodiversity, flood control, less wetland drainage, economic compensation for landowners for protecting the sensitive wetlands, and diminished divisiveness over wetlands issues.

Moreover, the pilot project is consistent with the purpose of CRP, and, if successful, could serve as a model for future farm policy as we look toward the next farm bill. I believe Congress will be unable to develop a future farm bill without the support of those in the conservation and wildlife community. I am a strong supporter of conservation programs that protect sensitive soil and water resources, promote wildlife habitat, and provide farmers and landowners with benefits and incentives to conserve land. I have introduced the Flex Fallow Farm Bill Amendment to achieve some of these objectives. It is my hope that the success on our pilot project can serve as a model to once again bring conservation groups together with farm interests in order to develop a well-balanced approach to future farm policy that protects our resources while promoting family-farm agriculture.

Finally, I fully understand the successful adoption of this wetlands pilot project--no matter how important--will not put an end to the ongoing debate over the management of wetlands on farmland. Yet, I really hope that everyone engaged in the debate considers how effective we can be when we cooperate and compromise on this important issue.