Office of the Vice President
Proposes Increased Funding for Voluntary Programs to Protect Threatened Farms
Washington, DC -- Vice President Al Gore today released new figures showing that the conversion of farmland and other open space to development more than doubled in recent years. The Vice President said the Administration will seek a significant increase in funding for voluntary programs to preserve farms threatened by sprawl.
The new figures, contained in the USDA's 1997 National Resources Inventory, show that nationally nearly 16 million acres of forest, cropland, and open space were converted to urban and other uses from 1992 to 1997. The average rate for those five years -- 3.2 million acres a year -- is more than twice the rate of 1.4 million acres a year recorded from 1982 to 1992.
"These new figures confirm what communities across America already know -- too much of our precious open space is being gobbled up by sprawl," Vice President Al Gore said. "We need to help communities grow in ways that work. We can build more livable communities, with a strong economy and a high quality of life, without forcing family farmers off the farm."
The Vice President said the new figures show that the loss of farmland is no longer centered predominantly around major metropolitan areas, but is affecting growing numbers of small- and mid-sized cities in virtually every part of the country.
States with the highest acreage conversion rates include: California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas (State chart attached).
While the conversion of agricultural land does not threaten America's food supply, haphazard development patterns result in the fragmentation of agricultural land, the loss of family farms that raise fresh produce for urban markets, and the elimination of vital open spaces, the Vice President said.
"Every time a farmer is squeezed off the land, a valuable way of life is eroded," the Vice President said. "We can help preserve our communities, and our environment, by keeping farmers on the land."
The Vice President said the Administration's FY 2001 budget would propose a significant increase for USDA's Farmland Protection Program, which provides resources to state and local governments to enter into voluntary agreements with farmers to preserve farmland. Typically, the funds are used to purchase "conservation easements" that ensure that farmland remains in agriculture and is not developed.
"This voluntary program is enormously popular -- for every dollar available, we have $10 in requests from state and local governments. Yet Congress has repeatedly denied the Administration's requests for increased funding," the Vice President said. "We will again call on Congress to give farmers, and their communities, the help they need."
The Vice President said the Administration will also continue to help communities address sprawl through its Livable Communities initiative, a broad array of programs that provide tools and resources to help ease traffic congestion, protect open space, revitalize urban neighborhoods, and strengthening local economies.
"Our role is to expand the choices available to communities -- not to dictate solutions," the Vice President said. "By providing new tools and resources, we can help communities create the future they want."
The full National Resources Inventory will be released Tuesday, December 7th by Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman at the National Summit on Private Lands Conservation in Ames, Iowa. The summit, hosted by USDA, will examine conservation and forestry issues facing the nation's private lands and gather ideas for targeting federal assistance.
The resources inventory covers non-federal land in the United States -- some 75 percent of the country's land base -- and is conducted every five years by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in cooperation with Iowa State University. It captures data from 800,000 statistically selected locations on land cover, land use, soil erosion, prime farmland, wetlands, habitat diversity, selected conservation practices, and other natural resource information. The information is statistically reliable for national, regional, statewide and multi-county use. NRI land conversion information is available on the web at <http:www.nrcs.usda.gov>.
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