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(Seattle, WA) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray announced that U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved an additional 25,000 acres for Douglas County farmers under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative called "State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement," (“SAFE”). This is another victory 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. In May, Senator Murray announced the Department of Agriculture approved 38,000 acres for conservation efforts.

“I’ve been a long-standing supporter of allowing local farmers to continue their work preserving land, so when farmers in Douglas County came to me for help, I went to work,” said Senator Murray. “I pushed the Department of Agriculture to move quickly to approve additional acres in the SAFE program and I’m very pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognized the outstanding conservation efforts being carried out by Douglas County farmers and approved this request.”

 “Through cooperative efforts like the SAFE initiative, farmers and ranchers can play a key role in protecting wildlife that may be threatened or endangered,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These additional ‘SAFE acres’ will provide new opportunities for state and regional agencies, non-profit organizations, farm groups and other conservation partners to work with farmers and ranchers to restore wildlife habitats and conserve rare species before they have to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.”

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 25,000 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.