The Conservation Reserve Program helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to voluntarily conserve environmentally sensitive land. Introduced in the 1985 Farm Bill, CRP once supported 37 million acres devoted to conserving soil, water, and wildlife habitat. But Congress reduced the size of the program to just 24 million acres in the 2014 Farm Bill, causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to turn down thousands of CRP applications from those who want to enroll millions of acres of private land in conservation. Habitat loss continues to be one of the greatest threats to hunting and fishing in this country, so this loss of CRP lands could pose a terrible risk for upland birds, waterfowl, deer, sage grouse, and freshwater fish.

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Wildlife conservation is one of the three main goals of the Conservation Reserve Program, and it’s not hard for sportsmen to see that CRP works. By incentivizing private owners to repurpose their land, CRP has helped restore wildlife habitat and improve thousands of waterways since the program’s inception. In fact, CRP acres in the northern plains states make up a vital share of nesting habitat for more than half of North America’s waterfowl. And CRP is helping landowners to voluntarily restore and supplement sage grouse habitat across the West, providing a much needed boost to a species in decline. Whitetail deer, black bears, pheasants, quail, wild turkeys, and countless other species have also been rebounding thanks to the conservation of millions of acres of grasslands and buffers through CRP.

CRP’s impact on water quality is especially notable. Through smart land management decisions, like the installation of waterway buffers, CRP protects more than 170,000 stream miles with trees and grasses. This improvement means cleaner drinking water and better fish habitat near CRP fields and downstream.

If that weren’t enough, many farmers, ranchers, and forest owners also open CRP acres to hunters and anglers in their communities.

Sportsmen all over the country want to maintain resilient fish and game populations, and CRP is one of the most successful conservation programs for private lands. Unfortunately, there’s little room left in CRP for private landowners who want to help, and so fish and wildlife are also at risk of being crowded out. Year after year, the acreage cap placed on CRP has been reduced and sportsmen and women need to take action to reverse this downward trend—for the sake of fish, wildlife, and our sporting heritage.

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The Conservation Reserve Program was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan as a part of the Farm Bill on December 23, 1985. This popular program is regarded by many as the greatest private lands conservation initiative in modern U.S. history. The program compensates landowners who voluntarily repurpose their land to conserve soil, water, and wildlife. By renting CRP acres from producers and providing cost-share assistance for things like seeds, trees, and labor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps make it financially possible for America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest owners to grow conservation.

While CRP once supported almost 40 million acres of conservation areas, the program was reduced to 32 million acres following the economic downturn in 2008. The 2014 Farm Bill continued this downward trend and Congress cut the program again—to just 24 million acres. It is now clear that the supply of acres isn’t keeping pace with demand. In February 2016, landowners applied to put more than 1.8 million acres into CRP, but USDA only accepted 18 percent of the offers—the lowest acceptance rate in the program’s 30-year history.

We need a stronger CRP. Sportsmen and women have too much at stake—healthy habitat, abundant fish and wildlife, and access to quality places to hunt and fish—to let the number of CRP acres drop any further. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Senator John Thune (R-SD), and Congressman Collin Peterson (R-MN) have all voiced their support for raising the cap, and other decision makers are beginning to do the same. Now it’s our turn to speak up.

CRP is a sportsman’s greatest ally in preserving habitat for hunting and fishing on private lands. Sign our petition to show your support for a stronger CRP in the next Farm Bill—because CRP works.

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