Deficit reductions must be fair across all economic sectors

Dear Editor:

As the Minnesota Legislature and Congress continue to address budget reductions at the state and federal level, it is critical that cuts are made fairly and equitably across the board. Conservation’s contribution to deficit reductions should not be disproportionate to other sectors of the economy.

The Minnesota Legislature is proposing to cut Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) conservation delivery grants that provide landowner assistance to deliver a broad, effective, private lands conservation program to the citizens of Minnesota. With cuts to local government aid, county funding for SWCDs has greatly diminished, and SWCDs operations budgets are already extremely strained. In addition, SWCD Service Grants have seen reductions totaling more than 30 percent since 2004. The proposed cuts put in jeopardy our ability to ensure the continued effective delivery of conservation on private lands, and the ability to leverage other private, local, state and federal funds.

The U.S. House-passed bill would cut government spending by over $60 billion, with over $5 billion coming from agriculture appropriations, including a $51 million cut to USDA’s Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA). CTA is critical to locally-led programs that help landowners adopt conservation practices on their property—where demand already well exceeds current funding levels.

The federal proposal would also make cuts to important mandatory Natural Resource Conservation Service conservation programs, including the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). As of April 2010, there was a backlog of over 1 million unfunded applications for the WRP and Grasslands Reserve Program. In 2009, for every landowner application that received funding under the EQIP, 3.4 applications did not. In addition, proposed cuts would eliminate the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operation and the Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) programs completely.

Reducing the deficit at the expense of working lands and conservation would have a devastating impact felt by everyone across the state and nation. These important programs help ensure food, energy and homeland security by promoting clean air, clean water and productive soils, in addition to helping decrease energy-use and reduce damage from severe weather and other natural disasters.

With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber for our nation and the world, I conservation funding is needed now more than ever.

Isanti County Soil & Water Conservation District
District Supervisors