Almost 484,000 acres of eastern Washington farmland were accepted into the
federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) last week, thanks to help from the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Land under the CRP is kept out of crop production through payments to farmers
for conservation benefits, including prevention of soil erosion, improvement of water
and air quality, and providing wildlife habitat.
Several wildlife species and habitats that are in trouble in Washington will
benefit from CRP acreage. The most notable species are salmon, steelhead trout, bull
trout, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse, and sharp-tailed grouse. The troubled habitats
include riparian zones (stream sides), wetlands, and shrub-steppe
A total of 483,681 acres in 2,678 parcels across 19 eastern Washington
counties scored well enough under conservation criteria to be accepted into the
program. The newly-signed CRP acreage represents an 82 percent acceptance rate,
since a total of 591,216 acres was offered.
That contrasts sharply with last year's 21 percent acceptance rate for
Washington acreage, one of the lowest in the nation. After that bad news last May,
WDFW officials pledged to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural
Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency to help farmers
maintain the CRP funding by improving what is grown on CRP acreage for wildlife.
The original intent of CRP and other provisions of the 1985 and 1990 Farm Bills
were to provide farm income stabilization, control crop production and reduce soil
erosion on highly erosive and marginal farmland. The 1996 version currently used is
strongly directed at providing conservation benefits. Points are given for improved
water quality, improved air quality, and increased wildlife habitat, as well as reduced
With the old Farm Bill landowners were only required to plant grass. The new
Farm Bill encourages farmers to plant multiple native grasses, broad leaved plants,
legumes, shrubs and trees. The results of the new seedings will provide much greater
benefits to wildlife. Even lands that were re-enrolled into CRP will get a face lift.
These existing stands of grass will be enhanced with new seedings to improve their
value as wildlife habitat.
"Our Upland Wildlife Restoration Program staff helped farmers through this
latest CRP sign-up period by recommending improvements in the vegetation grown on
CRP lands for wildlife and by evaluating the most environmentally sensitive areas for
bidding into the program," said Dave Ware of the WDFW Wildlife Management
Program. "We provided technical assistance and continue to seek additional funding to
help farmers pay the increased costs of planting the type of vegetation that is most
beneficial to wildlife."
"There is still much work to be done," said Dan Blatt , manager of WDFW's
Upland Wildlife Restoration Program. "When the final numbers are tallied we will have
added more than 200 landowners and thousands of acres to our program. There are
thousands of shrubs and trees to be planted, over 1,000 wildlife watering devices to
install, and several thousand acres to be planted to grasses, legumes, and forbs. Much
of this new habitat will be available through regulated access programs for public
hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing."
The technical expertise necessary for landowners to establish the new mixes of
vegetation will be critical to a farmer's success, explained Jerry Benson, WDFW's
vegetation management expert. WDFW will continue working with NRCS staff to help
provide that assistance to farmers.
With earlier sign-ups and ongoing contracts, Washington farmers now total
about 871,000 acres enrolled in CRP, including wildlife habitat enhancements that
benefit everything from deer and pheasants to butterflies and frogs.
"This is a voluntary, incentive-based program where everyone benefits," said
Ware. "Landowners receive some economic stability through long-term rental of their
land, they get help complying with environmental regulations, and perhaps prevent the
need for additional regulation. Fish and wildlife benefit from vast acres of improved
habitats and the citizens of the state benefit from improved environmental conditions
and greater wildlife populations to enjoy."
Blatt noted that WDFW habitat development managers Mark Grabski of St.
John, Ted Johnson of Pomeroy, Gretchen Steele of Ephrata, Ron Fox of Wenatchee,
Steve DeGrood of Yakima, Bill Powell of Olympia, and their staffs, are responsible for
the CRP habitat expansion and will be coordinating spring seeding, planting, and other
on the ground work.*
Following is a county by county list of the newly accepted CRP acreage:
||# of parcels
||# if acres
||% of total offered
(*NEWS MEDIA: These staffers can help arrange photo opportunities of on-site
activities for this story; WDFW's Madonna Luers, 509-456-4073, can put you in
touch with them.)