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Hunting groups call conservation initiatives 'grand slam'

"This announcement is a grand slam for wildlife and conservationists." That is how the CEO of Pheasants Forever summed up President George Bush's statement in support of the Conservation Reserve Program yesterday at the Katzenmeyer family farm near LeSueur, Minnesota.

Vincent joined President Bush for the announcement that USDA will fully implement President Bush's directive to sustain the environmental benefits of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by offering early re-enrollments and contract extensions for acres that begin expiring in 2007. The President also launched two new conservation initiatives, one that focuses on wetlands restoration and another with a goal of restoring habitat for the bobwhite quail.

"CRP is the nation's most successful conservation program and the President's announcement today will ensure that the wildlife legacy of CRP will continue into the future. This is a huge victory for wildlife, the environment, and hunter-conservationists," Vincent said yesterday.

Leaders from Ducks Unlimited (DU) were also on hand for President Bush's announcement. They say the Administration has taken an important step to promote CRP enrollment in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), where more than 20,000 acres of CRP land are set to expire, and to ensure it remains a key part of the Conservation Title of the next Farm Bill, according to DU president John Tomke.

The PPR stretches northwest from northern Iowa through southwestern Minnesota, eastern South Dakota, and eastern and northern North Dakota. It is considered one of the most important areas for duck reproduction in North America.

"This announcement is big news for DU and our one million supporters. The program is vital to DU's mission of wetland
and waterfowl conservation because it provides the much-needed upland grasslands for breeding waterfowl. It also provides measurable results, and is an excellent investment for future generations."

Don Young, Executive Vice President of DU, not ed the group was thrilled with the announcement.

"President Bush has heard and acted upon our collective concerns surrounding CRP distribution and funding, particularly as it relates to our highest priority conservation location, the Prairie Pothole region. We look forward to working with USDA as new CRP policies are developed and implemented," he said.

Jim Range, the chairman of The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), also applauded the boost for CRP saying "CRP has helped millions of American farmers create wildlife-friendly habitat and this step will help ensure that we retain that existing habitat and even add to it."

The group says the early renewal element is perhaps the most important part of the announcement, as it helps re-enroll millions of acres in CRP contracts that are set to expire in the near future.

The TRCP, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League of America and the Wildlife Society, say they are already working to make sure the next Farm Bill, scheduled for passage in 2007, will further strengthen USDA conservation programs like CRP.

The TRCP is a coalition of conservation organizations and individual grassroots partners. The group is a strong supporter of the "Open Fields" legislation introduced last fall by Senators Kent Conrad (D-ND) and and Pat Roberts (R-KS). The coalition says its overall mission is driven by one overriding objective: to "Guarantee You a Place to Hunt and Fish."

Looking at the state by state acreage allocations for President Bush's new wetlands restoration initiative, Senator Conrad's state has much to gain. Out of the 250,000 acres allocated for the new program, the lion's share - 65,000 acres - will be in North Dakota. Minnesota is second, with 36,000 allotted acres. Texas is third with 25,000 acres.

About half of the allotted acres for the new bobwhite quail program will be evenly divided between Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Texas. 08/05/2004 09:23 a.m.CDT

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