Next time you're fishing your favorite local waterway, enjoying birdsong in a nearby wetland or drinking a glass of clean water, thank the farm bill.
What does an obscure piece of legislation have to do with your sporting and outdoor opportunities or your community's quality of life? Everything.
The farm bill is best known for school lunch programs and helping farmers during drought. But if you fish or hunt, it has almost certainly improved your chances for success by restoring millions of acres of habitat and protecting water quality across America. That's why anyone who fishes, hunts or cares about clean drinking water should contact their members of Congress today and urge them to pass the farm bill this month.
The farm bill's conservation programs help fund innovative, cooperative projects that enhance our streams, wetlands and wildlife habitat while benefiting ag producers' bottom lines. These programs encourage partnerships and collaboration among farmers and ranchers, conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited, and state agencies to restore and enhance our nation's soil and water and also promote best agricultural practices.
For example, with farm bill help, Utah rancher Dave Bess replaced the old irrigation system on his land with new efficient sprinklers, cutting his water use in half while boosting healthy stream flows for native cutthroat trout in the Little Bear River. Trout Unlimited worked with farmers in the Driftless Area of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota on riparian planting projects that keep sediment and nutrients out of streams in order to improve water quality and fishing in downstream rivers in the upper Mississippi basin.
Repeat these stories hundreds of times — across millions of acres and thousands of streams and watersheds — and you get some idea of the impact of farm bill conservation programs.
Today, we need these programs more than ever to upgrade our nation's aging dams and leaky irrigation infrastructure, which often damage watershed health, degrade aquatic habitat and impact our fishing. In these tough economic times, these projects create high-paying jobs and help support the nation's multibillion dollar recreation economy as well as rural communities.
Unfortunately, these great conservation advances are in danger of being lost. The leadership of the House of Representatives has failed to make this crucial legislation a priority. Without immediate action, the farm bill will expire on Sept. 30.
Yes, this is an election year, but that's no excuse for the House to let hundreds of worthy projects and billions of dollars' worth of economic activity literally wither on the vine. These programs work — for ranchers and farmers, for rural communities, for anglers and hunters, for all Americans who care about reviving our economy and keeping our lakes, wetlands and rivers and streams healthy.
Wood is president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, a cold-water conservation organization.