Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) aims to improve state and local government and non-profit collaboration on conservation efforts. To build upon CREP’s existing framework and to help grow its reach and effectiveness, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Improvement Act. This legislation would ensure that CREP can more powerfully deliver for farmers and the public by making a number of key changes.
Historically, CREP has been instrumental in getting forested riparian buffers and other conservation practices on the ground in Pennsylvania, but enrollment has waned in recent years. Forested riparian buffers reduce nutrient and sediment runoff in streams, improving livestock health, water quality, and habitat for fish and wildlife. Recognizing the environmental value of riparian buffers, the state of Pennsylvania has set a goal of planting 95,000 acres of riparian forest buffers by 2025. This legislation aims to reinvigorate CREP, thereby helping Pennsylvania meet the state’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup up goals.
“We owe it to our farmers to provide all the support we can to help strengthen their conservation efforts,” said Senator Casey. “The changes proposed in this legislation will make it easier for farmers to put valuable, cost-effective conservation practices on the ground throughout Pennsylvania.”
“Pennsylvania views forested buffers as a critical component of our work to clean local waterways,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “We applaud the direction of greater flexibility and think landowners will appreciate it too.”
Specifically, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program Improvement Act:
- Prioritizes CREP by directing USDA to allocate no less than 3,000,000 acres into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program by 2023. This ensures opportunity for farmers to enroll and gives partners the certainty needed to continue to invest in CREP.
- Ensures USDA cost share is based on customary local costs for practice components such as installing stream fencing, stream crossings and alternative water sources on marginal pastureland
- Improves effectiveness of the program by ensuring funding is available to support adequate care of riparian forest buffers so these plantings thrive.
- Increases efficiency and streamlines delivery by expanding opportunity for partners to handle burdensome riparian buffer maintenance on behalf of landowners. Pooling CREP contracts and handling maintenance on a large scale will save time and money, and ensure maintenance is done correctly and that buffers succeed.
- Incentivizes increased enrollment and provides increased flexibility by authorizing the planting of native, food-producing woody plants and florals in forested buffers. These plantings must be consistent with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technical standards, and harvest must not have a negative impact on conservation.
- Strengthens accountability by requiring USDA to annually report to Congress on Federal contributions to each CREP agreement, and progress made toward fulfilling the objectives of each CREP agreement.