(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved 38,000 acres for Douglas County farmers under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative called "State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement," (“SAFE”). This is a big win for Douglas County farmers who will be provided continuing assistance to keep environmentally sensitive cropland in approved vegetative cover. Senator Murray has worked closely with the U.S Department of Agriculture and Obama Administration and has fought for the necessary legislative changes to help Douglas County farmers extend their contracts to continue using those croplands.
“When farmers in Douglas County came to me for help, I got to work,” said Senator Patty Murray. “I’ve long supported allowing local farmers to continue their work preserving land, and I kept pushing the Department of Agriculture to move quickly to approve these acres in the SAFE program. I am pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognizes the outstanding work being done by Douglas County farmers and has approved this request.”
"One of the important goals of SAFE initiative
projects is to protect and restore habitats for rare, threatened or endangered
wildlife. We are particularly interested in working with farmers and ranchers
to conserve rare species before they have to be listed under the Endangered
Species Act,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Interest and
enrollment in this voluntary program continues to exceed our expectations, and
we’re encouraged by the potential impact of these projects. Farmers and
ranchers in Douglas County, Washington should be credited for their voluntary
efforts to protect the sage grouse.”
“We’re thrilled by today’s announcement designating a
new SAFE project in Douglas County, and we appreciate Senator Murray’s
leadership on this crucial issue,” said Britt Dudek, manager of the
Foster Creek Conservation District in Waterville, Washington. “We
brought this problem to Senator Murray in 2007, and she has fought diligently
on our behalf to successfully allow Douglas County farmers to continue
proactively protecting important habitat for the grouse.”
The SAFE program functions as a continuous sign-up CRP program which encourages farmers to convert environmentally sensitive cropland to approved vegetative cover. SAFE also provides habitat to species of concern by cost-sharing the establishment of approved covers and making annual rental payments for taking that land out of production for 10 – 15 years.
The CRP program currently limits county enrollment of acreage to 25 percent of eligible cropland. Douglas County has in the past exceeded this limit and has in the past received waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. Senator Murray fought to include language in the 2008 Farm Bill allowing continuous signup CRP programs, such as SAFE, to exceed the limits on how many acres could be enrolled in the program.
These acres will be allocated to a new SAFE project in Douglas County for sage-grouse and sharp-tailed grouse. The sage-grouse is currently a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, and the sharp-tailed grouse is a species of concern. By designating the 38,000 acres to Douglas County, producers will be able to continue to voluntarily preserve and restore important habitat and provide additional benefits for grouse. Research conducted in Douglas County shows that the sage-grouse population relies on private lands and that over half of grouse nesting activity occurs on land currently enrolled in the CRP program. Many sharp-tailed grouse breeding and nesting activities also occur on CRP land.