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Farm Bill impacts conservation and duck hunting in Arkansas - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Farm Bill impacts conservation and duck hunting in Arkansas

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Texarkana, Arkansas -

In addition to setting agricultural policies and spending on feeding programs for the poor, you might be surprised to learn that the federal Farm Bill plays a role in conservation and protecting wildlife.
    
With a new Farm Bill stalled in Congress, conservationists say Southern states could lose important breeding grounds for wildlife, a particular concern for duck hunters.

Arkansas and Louisiana are the are among the top duck hunting states in the U.S.

Since the mid-1980's, multi-year food and agriculture legislation known as the Farm Bill has included key wetland and conservation reserve programs.

Those programs have been credited for preserving the eco-systems of millions of acres of land from crop production and development.

"You kind of get the sense of how these things are connected, and how they are mutually beneficial, said Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited, Director of Operations. "Really regardless of where they are in the country, they have ties back to the residents in Arkansas."

Ducks Unlimited is dedicated to the conservation of wetlands and waterfowl habitats and is urging passage of a new Farm Bill to help preserve Arkansas migratory game regions.

Moorman says when landowners retire their land to the conservation programs, they are paid by the government.

"Then they can also generate a little additional income, through leases, explained Moorman. "All that goes into your local or regional economy, and generally helps the state of Arkansas."

The Wetlands Reserve Program has more than 200,000 acres of waterfowl habitat in Arkansas enrolled under its protections.

Moorman says waterfowl is a driving force in the economy for hunting and fishing in Arkansas.

Last year, U.S Fish and Wildlife officials say more than 529,000 mallards were taken in Arkansas, that's more than twice as many as any other state.

In the nation's "duck capital" of Stuttgart, it's estimated duck hunters pump $1 million a day into the regional economy during the season that is now under way.

It's even become a hot button issue in politics.

U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, who is in a tough re-election campaign, has used the waterfowl issue against his opponent, Congressman Tom Cotton.

Cotton, like many Tea Party and GOP Conservatives, voted against a new Farm Bill until expensive programs such as food stamps were stripped out of the bill.

Moorman says without the Farm Bill, conservation programs will cease to exist, as well as, future enrollment into the programs.

"They're only able to take names of interested land owners they can't technically enroll them, because they don't have funding or authorization to do so until this bill is passed," said Moorman.
 
That could cause farmers to put more of their land to work raising crops, which one day could mean fewer ducks overhead.

The old farm bill expired October 1st.

A new farm bill is more than two years overdue.

Currently, leaders of the House and Senate Agricultural Committees are trying to work out differences between their respective bills as they face a deadline of January 1st.

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