Which is most beneficial to wildlife?
a) The U.S. Department of Interior, with its vast Waterfowl Production Areas?
b) Individual states, with their wildlife management areas?
c) Private conservation groups, through their fund-raising and land acquisition efforts?
None of the above.
Sorry. Trick question.
For all the good habitat set aside by federal and state governments and conservation groups, none comes close to the amount of habitat on private property, specifically millions of acres on Midwest farms.
Which is why the current debate over the federal Farm Bill should be important to hunters and others who value wildlife.
"As much as we do that's good through all our state programs and all the conservation groups, I hesitate to say this, but they really pale in comparison to what can happen with the Farm Bill," said Wayne Edgerton of Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources.
On Oct. 5, the House passed its version of the 2001 Farm Bill. The Senate Agriculture Committee opened discussions on the bill last week.
The last farm bill was passed in 1996 and was in effect for five years. The House version of the 2001 Farm Bill would be in effect for 10 years.
The Farm Bill deals not only with crop subsidy payments but with conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that has meant so much to duck and pheasant populations in the Midwest.
The House version of the bill included several conservation measures, most of which pay farmers to set aside land as wildlife habitat or wetlands.
"What the House did can be looked at as a good start, but they haven't gone nearly far enough," the DNR's Edgerton said.
The Senate's Farm Bill effort will be led by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who favors a plan he calls the Conservation Security Act.
"The biggest question we have about that is where the money's going to come from," Moore said. "Estimates are it will take $3 billion, which is double what's spent on the conservation (program) now. Our fear is that some of that money will come at the expense of other programs."