Chapter 4: Conservation Farming and Forestry
We must put our actions where our values are. Our government is a leading purchaser of goods and services. And it's time to stop not only the waste of taxpayers' money but the waste of our natural resources.
President Bill Clinton
Agriculture and forestry are becoming more environmentally friendly. Participants in federal programs to promote conservation farming and forestry have been highly effective, with cropland erosion levels down by over one-fifth from 3 billion tons in 1987. It is a remarkable accomplishment in a short period of time, and the incentive-based conservation practices that prevented the erosion are a return on the investment of the American taxpayer.
U.S. agriculture finds itself in the midst of a major shift from traditional post-World War II farming approaches and markets to advanced production techniques and expanding world trade, all under an umbrella of environmental interests and concerns. As the ecosystem approach to management helps achieve environmental goals, all sectors of agriculture are recognizing this new factor in the agricultural equation. No longer is it simply a chain of production, harvest, transport, and consumption, but rather a mesh of interwoven events, connections, and interactions that determine how consumers perceive the food on their table. Today consumers are concerned about quality, healthfulness, and whether food was produced in an environmentally sound manner. Producers are responding to these consumer concerns.
For the American farmer and the Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resource Conservation Service), 1993 was a banner year with soil erosion down by 694 million tons from the previous year. Although the conservation practices responsible for the reduction are widely applicable, their benefits vary with conditions. Such practices include erodible cropland reserves, conservation or crop-residue tillage, contour plowing and stripcropping, vegetative buffer strips, and vegetative covers applied to highly erodible cropland.
The terms cropland and farmland are distinct. Farmland encompasses the whole farm-cropland, woodlots, pasture, waterways, wetlands, and developed areas. Cropland is only that acreage used to produce crops, whether it is irrigated or not, cultivated or temporarily fallow, idle, or planted to pasture.
The trend toward fewer but larger farms that accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and began to reshape U.S. agriculture continues, but at a slower rate. In the 1970s farm numbers stabilized in response to improved economic conditions in farming and an increase in rural residences. The 1980s witnessed a resumption in the decline in farm numbers as many farmers left agriculture and fewer entered it, but the rate of decline, while more rapid than during the 1970s, was slower than during the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1993 only 1.9 million farms remained in the United States, compared to a peak number of nearly 7 million in the mid-1930s.
Much of the prime farmland in the United States is located in urban and suburban areas, and over half of the nation's top-value agricultural commodities (largely perishable fruit and vegetables) come from farms in metropolitan counties or adjacent ones. Because America's settlers chose prime farmland to support their 18th-century agrarian society, it follows that today's cities are located on some of the best soils in some of the most conducive climates for growing crops and livestock. If current population growth patterns continue, however, cities are destined to cast ever-enlarging suburban rings into the surrounding countryside, destroying prime farmland and significantly affecting agricultural production. Estimates place the amount of prime farmland disappearing from 1982 to 1992 at a little over 600 thousand acres each year. Two-thirds (66 percent) of this loss is due to conversion to rural and urban development.
Between 1982 and 1992, 39 million acres of nonfederal cropland and 14 million acres of nonfederal rangeland were removed from production, continuing a trend that has prevailed since 1950. Of the 39 million acres of cropland, however, most (82 percent) was highly erodible and went into the Conservation Reserve Program while about 4 million acres were converted to developed land. The decrease in rangeland occurred because of land conversions to a variety of other uses-cropland, developed land, other rural lands-and a change in ownership from nonfederal to federal land.
Developed land increased by 14 million acres (18 percent more than the 1982 figure). This increase came from conversion of about 2.5 million acres of pastureland, 2 million acres of rangeland, 5.4 million acres of forestland, and about 4 million acres of cropland. In 1992 developed land totaled 92.4 million acres, nearly 5 percent of the U.S. land base.
In 1993 an estimated 333 million acres of cropland was used for crops, down 7 million from 1992. Much of the decline can be attributed to reduced corn, soybean, and sorghum plantings caused by wet weather and flooding in the Corn Belt, Lake States, and
Harvest estimates of principal crops totaled 298 million acres which, combined with minor crops, increased total harvested acres to more than 311 million acres. About 10 million acres of the harvest were doublecropped. After allowing for doublecropping, cropland harvests totaled 301 million acres, also down 7 million acres from 1992.
Crop failure is estimated at 10 million acres for 1993, the same as in 1988. Another 22 million acres were summer fallowed in 1993, down a million acres from 1992. Estimates for cropland harvested were down, and crop failure was up sharply in the Lake States and Corn Belt. Similar changes on a smaller scale occurred in the Delta States, Northern Plains, and Appalachian regions.
Cropland idled by federal programs increased by one million acres, mostly from additional land enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program. Decreased idling of wheat, barley, and cotton offset increased idling of corn and rice acreage.
Pastureland includes improved pasture, native pasture, and cropland pasture, and almost all of it (126 million acres in 1992) is privately owned. Improved pasture is land that has been planted to domesticated grasses and forbs and is managed for intensified livestock production. Native pasture includes former cropland on which the plant cover is changing to native vegetation, improved pasture that has reverted to a stand of native vegetation, and grazed woodlands that are not managed for wood production but where trees have been removed or thinned to increase the grazing resource. Cropland pasture is cropland that has been seeded to grasses and routinely rotated between cropland and grazing land.
Most of the nation's pastureland occurs east of the Continental Divide, and its condition is improving. Between 1982 and 1992, the acreage of pastureland needing conservation treatment was reduced by 16 percent, from 69.4 million acres to 58.4 million acres. The 1992 pastureland areas needing conservation treatment represented 15 percent of the pastureland base in the country.
For a discussion of the nation's 700 million acres of rangeland, over half of it privately owned in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains states, see Chapter 5: Public Lands and Federal Facilities.
Spending on conservation practices by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state and local governments has increased steadily over the past decade. In recent years rental payments for land retired for conservation purposes have become the largest category of USDA conservation expense. In 1993 conservation expenses exceeded $3.9 billion up from $3.6 billion in 1992. While these costs have been rising in recent years, budget reductions in 1994 could bring the first drop in several years.
The majority of these expenditures are rental and easement payments, such as the rental payments to participants in the Conservation Reserve Program for land retired from production. Easement payments are also involved in the new Wetlands Reserve Program. Technical assistance of $814 million in 1993 is the highest ever and accounts for almost one-fourth of the total USDA conservation budget.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), authorized by the 1985 Food Security Act (the 1985 Farm Bill), offers 10-15 year rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish stable vegetative cover on cropland that is highly erodible or contributing to a serious water quality problem. No crops are produced on CRP lands; they are protective reserves. In the 10 years since its inception, the CRP, by offering 12 signup periods, has retired from production, at least temporarily, 36.4 million highly erodible acres and other sensitive lands. This figure represents 96 percent of the program goal.
The future of the CRP and of the environmental benefits gained by the program are in question because of uncertain funding to maintain or expand enrolled acreages beyond current contracts. As initial CRP contracts begin to expire in late 1995, farmers can bring that land back into production. The results of a 1993 survey by the Soil and Water Conservation Society indicate that over half (63 percent) of CRP acres will be returned to some type of crop production after contracts expire.
Planned land use CRP acres*
set-aside requirements 4
Enroll in 0/92 or 50/92 programs** 3
Rent or lease to other farmers 13
specific use planned 3
Other uses or unknown 2
** 0/92 is an option federal acreage diversion program which allows wheat and feed producers to devote all or a portion of their permitted acreage to conservation uses or to a minor oilseed crop and, under some conditions, receive deficiency payments. 50/92 is an option federal acreage diversion program which allows upland cotton and rice producers to underplant their permitted acreage and, under some conditions, receive deficiency payments on part of the underplanted acreage.
Source: Osburn, C.T., M. Schnepf & R. Klein, The Future Use of CRP Acres: A National Survey of Farm Owners and Operators, (Ankeny, IA: Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), 1994).
The conservation compliance provisions of the 1985 Farm Bill and the 1990 Farm Bill (the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990) require farmers to implement conservation practices on highly erodible land (HEL) by 1995 to be eligible for most USDA program benefits. With its stimulus for farmers to properly treat highly erodible lands, conservation compliance could further reduce erosion. Status reviews of compliance plans in 1993 estimated that when all plans are completed there would be an annual reduction of over 1 billion tons of soil erosion, which will result in a 66 percent reduction in the erosion rate. This reduction is in addition to the CRP acres or other croplands eroding at the soil loss tolerance level or below (soil loss tolerance is the maximum average soil loss, estimated by SCS for a specific soil, that will permit a high level of production economically and indefinitely). Field practices encouraged by this program include the following examples.
Crop Residue Management. These techniques leave a protective cover of residue from the previous crop. Crop residue is not only a primary defense against sediment loss, water runoff, and chemical loss but also improves soil tilth (the state of aggregation), organic content, and moisture retention. This type of crop management increases the opportunity for chemicals to break down into harmless components through the action of microorganisms contained in organic matter in the residue or in the top layer of soil in the presence of air and sunlight. Conservation tillage is used mainly on corn, soybeans, and small grains, which are the largest fertilizer and pesticide users. Tillage operations and the amount of previous crop residue on the soil surface serve as indicators of erosion potential.
. Conservation Tillage. Techniques such as no-till, ridge-till, and mulch-till leave 30 percent or more of the soil surface covered with previous crop residue after planting to protect against the erosive effects of wind and water. The results of recent national surveys show increased use of conservation tillage and other crop residue management practices and a shift away from clean tillage. No-till ridge-till, and mulch- till practices accounted for 36 percent of total tillage (more than 100 million acres) in 1993.
. Conventional or Clean Tillage. In contrast conventional tillage leaves the soil surface clean, with less than 15 percent residue from weeds or a previous crop; the practice loosens soil particles that then can be dislodged by wind and water erosion.
Conservation tillage systems are usually more cost effective than other erosion control measures used in protecting cultivated cropland. While new or retrofitted machinery may be required, immediate cost savings are attained because of the need for fewer trips over the field, smaller machinery, and reduced labor. On the other hand, conservation tillage requires more attention to proper timing and placement of fertilizers and pesticides.
Other Conservation Practices. Field practices such as contour farming, stripcropping, cover crops, field terraces, filter strips, and watered grassways reduce soil erosion and retard water runoff and associated chemical loss.
. Contour Plowing and Stripcropping. These practices are especially beneficial on sloping lands;
. Vegetative Buffer Strips. Maintaining vegetative buffer strips between fields and along waterways slows down and filters runoff;
. Windrows. Maintaining thickets of shrubs and trees between fields and on the edges of fields reduces wind erosion and damage (and provides wildlife habitat);
. Vegetative Covers. Keeping a vegetative cover on idle or fallow land reduces erosion;
. Crop Rotations. By rotating crops farmers can lower pesticide runoff risks by increasing crop residue levels and water infiltration while improving soil structure. Crop rotations often reduce the area needing treatment with pesticides and decreases reliance on annual application of the same pesticide, which tends to reduce the efficiency of the treatment as pests build up a resistance to the pesticide.
Cropland conversions have been the leading cause for the loss of U.S. wetlands over the past 200 years. One-fourth of the cropland in the United States, 100 million acres, was obtained by clearing and draining wetlands. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, wetlands were converted to agricultural uses at a rate of 300,000 acres per year from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. The conversion rate fell to around 150,000 acres per year from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. A Soil Conservation Service study indicates that the agricultural conversion rate has fallen to about 50,000 acres per year for the 1987-1991 period. Based on this latest study of conversion rates, a 1-million-acre wetlands reserve could restore enough wetlands to offset many years of agricultural wetland conversions and recover lost wetland functions and values (see Program Accomplishments later in this chapter).
Consisting of primary plant nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash, fertilizers stimulate plant production and substantially increase yields per acre, even when the soil condition is reduced because of erosion, compaction, or removal of crop residue. A side effect, however, is that nutrients not taken up by plants remain in the environment and can degrade the quality of surface water and groundwater. Agricultural chemicals are among the principal sources of eutrophication in surface waters and nitrate contamination of groundwater.
Fertilizer use on farms in the United States increased steadily for decades after World War II until crop reduction programs and farm economic stresses caused a reversal of this trend in the early 1980s. Since then fertilizer consumption has fluctuated in response to acreage reduction programs and weather-for instance, reductions due to drought in 1987 and floods in 1993.
Corn is the most fertilizer- using crop, followed by wheat and soybeans. Most of the 1993 decrease in fertilizer use was due to less corn planting. The 1993 flood caused fewer acres to be planted and prevented many midwestern farmers from making more than one fertilizer application during the crop year.
Pesticide use on the major field crops in 1993 was down from previous years, primarily because planted area for corn, a heavy pesticide user, was reduced because of the 1993 flood. Herbicides account for 84 percent of total pesticide use, while insecticides make up 14 percent and fungicides 2 percent.
Atrazine, used alone or in combination with other active ingredients such as alachor or metolalchor, is the most commonly used herbicide in corn production. The active ingredients of these chemicals control a large number of broadleaf and grass weeds and, when applied in combination, the control spectrum can be widened.
Over the past decade, numerous monitoring studies for atrazine have been conducted on river systems and on individual water supply facilities and reservoirs. Recent findings indicate that elevated amounts of atrazine are running off fields and entering surface water, primarily in the Midwest where the herbicide is applied to corn and sorghum fields. Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Illinois, and Iowa report at least one water supply with mean annual atrazine concentration greater than the maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 3 parts per billion which could put them in noncompliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Atrazine is sometimes found in groundwater but rarely above the MCL.
The EPA classifies atrazine as a possible human carcinogen. It is moderately toxic to coldwater fish and moderately to slightly toxic to warmwater fish. It can be highly toxic to freshwater insects but is practically nontoxic to birds. Whether the concentrations of atrazine currently found in surface water are affecting ecosystems is currently unknown.
Drinking water drawn from small rivers or reservoirs having agricultural watersheds appears to be most at risk from atrazine contamination. On rivers seasonal spikes in atrazine levels can be very high, and concentrations greater than the MCL can persist for up to six weeks after the application period. Reservoirs tend to act as pollutant sinks; if contaminated during spring rains, atrazine concentrations tend to remain high for a long time. Under such conditions the likelihood increases of municipal water supplies being out of compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. If this happens, an alternative source of water must be found or treatment technology installed.
Atrazine can enter water resources through point source or nonpoint source discharges. Point source discharges are due to carelessness in storage, mixing, and disposal. Nonpoint discharges occur when the chemical leaches through the soil profile or is carried with surface water before it is degraded. Atrazine loadings can be reduced by reducing application rates and preventing atrazine-carrying runoff. Better timing, using scouts to identify when treatment is needed, and applying the herbicide in bands rather than spraying the entire field can reduce atrazine application rates. Crop management systems such as incorporating atrazine directly into the soil, rather than on the surface, conservation tillage, contouring, stripcropping, and filter strips reduce the opportunity for surface runoff. Switching to other herbicides, though more costly and less effective, and increased use of corn-soybean rotation are management options for reducing atrazine in the environment.
No simple solution presents itself in the atrazine problem. A general reduction in application rates and banning all pre-plant and pre-emergent applications would generate producer costs of $320 million and reduce yields, but consumers would not be affected significantly. A total ban on atrazine would cost producers and consumers about $800 million, which would exceed the cost of removing atrazine from drinking water. At the same time, it would reduce annual government program costs by as much as $300 million because of higher corn and sorghum prices, assuming no changes in farm programs. Farmer response to a ban might include increased use of atrazine substitutes and corn-soybean rotation. While increased rotations would have environmental benefits, the increased use of other herbicides could lead to different water quality problems. Another possible solution would involve targeted atrazine controls with local bans in certain areas, which would require identifying those watersheds requiring atrazine runoff control, and the most appropriate alternative management strategies.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is a sustainable approach to managing pests which combines biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in a way that mimimizes economic, health, and environmental risks. To use IPM effectively, farmers need to understand pest and crop biology, consider root causes of pest population explosions, and understand how other management factors influence pest populations and the beneficial organisms that could potentially hold some pests in check. The IPM concept promotes monitoring of pest populations and crop growth to determine the need for management action. Pesticides are used as a last resort and only when pests reach an economic threshold, in other words, the point at which pest damage exceeds the costs of pest control. In short IPM requires more information, more skillful management and better decision-making than previous practices.
IPM is more than simply scouting for pests and applying a pest-control treatment after the crop is growing in the field. It can involve practices implemented long before a field is planted, at planting, during the season, and after harvest. Breeding and selecting pest-resistant crop varieties, rotating crops, field sanitation, delayed planting, early harvest, and many other non- chemical practices are all part of IPM.
The concept of IPM is not new, yet because of the availability and wide use of chemical pesticides, many of the components of IPM systems have been neglected. Since the 1960s efforts have been made to develop IPM, especially as the potential environmental and health-related problems associated with chemical pesticide use became better known. Integration of multiple pest suppression techniques has the highest probability of sustaining long-term crop and livestock production. Recent successes include eradication of the boll weevil, suppression of Mediterranean fruit fly, pink bollworm, and screwworm populations, and efforts to suppress fly populations around poultry houses and livestock yards.
Irrigated land on farms, as reported by the Census of Agriculture, peaked in 1978 at 50.4 million acres and then declined to 49 million acres in 1982 and subsequently to 46.4 million acres in 1987. Since then, the amount of irrigated farmland has increased to nearly 52 million acres in 1993. Considerable year-to-year variation occurs in irrigated areas, with a major factor being annual acreage idle under USDA programs.
Historically most of the irrigated farmland has been found in seventeen arid Western states. However, irrigation development has moved north and east. The crop mix has also changed. Irrigation of corn, wheat, and especially soybeans has grown much faster than irrigation of cotton, hay, and other crops. Declines in irrigation from 1992 to 1993 came primarily in the Lake States, Corn Belt, and Northern Plains in response to wet weather and in California where water use has not recovered from the recent drought. Nationally the irrigated area of corn, wheat, and rice declined in 1993, while irrigated cotton area increased.
The estimated depth of water applied per season now averages less than 22 inches, or 13 percent less than in 1969. This decline resulted from the adoption of more efficient irrigation technologies and practices in the 1970s and shifts in geographic location of irrigation and the crop mix being irrigated in each state. Water applied per acre has declined in most of the western states, but has increased in the eastern states. On corn, wheat, soybeans, and hay, average use has declined. Water use per acre of rice, which increased about 20 percent during the 1969-1979 period, has declined in recent years.
Farmers used an estimated 95 million acre-feet of irrigation water in 1993. Irrigated agriculture continues to dominate water usage in the United States, accounting for 81 percent of total freshwater consumption. In the West, irrigation water use accounts for 90 percent of total water use while in the East, it accounts for half, with the greatest use in the Southeast and Delta regions.
The structure of the livestock and poultry sectors reflect adjustments to market forces and consumer attitudes similar to the general farm economy. Trends toward fewer, but larger and more efficient livestock and poultry units are continuing as environmental concerns and regulations focus more attention on pollution abatement. These trends are particularly evident in the more arid, less populated areas of the country. Livestock and poultry operations are moving quickly to adopt environmental friendly practices to reduce surface water pollution and runoff problems.
Hogs. In the past hundreds of thousands of small independent hog farms were the heart of the U.S. pork industry. Today the pork industry has a new makeup. The number of hog farms has plummeted, as the industry consolidates on fewer, larger, more specialized hog farms. A change in marketing arrangements between hog farmers and pork processors has accompanied the industry's shift to fewer, larger farms. Approximately 70 percent of total U.S. hog production originates in the North Central region, with Iowa the largest production state. In 1993 rapid expansion of very large concentrated units placed North Carolina second in production. Development of very large concentrated units is also occurring in the arid areas of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, and Utah. The remaining hog operations in the United States, comprising 62 percent of the hog farms, have less than 6 percent of the hog inventory.
Beef Cattle. The beef cattle industry is undergoing a similar transformation, from a very large number of seasonal operations located largely in the Midwest to large operations feeding cattle throughout the year. Eighty percent of fed beef cattle are kept in operations holding more than 1,000 animal units. Most of these feedlots are located in the arid areas of the Great Plains. The beef cow-calf sector is largely a residual claimant to land not used for crop production. It is a land-extensive operation using forage from pasture to range, crop residues, and cover crops on cropland. Size of these operations depends not only on the usual economies of scale, but also on the carrying capacity of land. For example, the grazing acreage requirement for a 1-to-2 bull and 15- to-50 cow unit can range from about 1 acre of highly improved pasture per cow grazed year round to as much as several hundred acres of arid rangeland per cow grazed only part of the year because of a short growing season. Of the nearly 1 million beef cow operations in 1993, 81 percent raised fewer than 50 cows each, but nearly 33 percent of the U.S. beef cow inventory. Operations with 500 or more beef cows comprised less than 4 percent of the operations, but nearly 34 percent of the inventory. Herds are most concentrated in the Great Plains, the Southeast, and the arid West.
Dairy Cattle. The structure of dairy farms has also significantly changed over the last two decades. The number of milk operations has declined as more farms become more specialized and large farms have multiplied. Total milk cow numbers have declined, but milk production per cow and total milk production has increased. In 1993, farms with 100 or more milk cows, while representing only 13.6 percent of total dairy operations, contained 50.5 percent of the inventory of milk cows. Although small dairy farms still dominate each U.S. milk producing region, operations with fewer than 50 cows are declining in number and share of production. A large number of these dairies are concentrated in the North Central and New England areas. In contrast, dairies in California, Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, Texas, and Washington are expanding inventories to very large production units.
Poultry. The poultry industry is already a highly concentrated industry of a small number of major operators located largely in the southeastern quadrant of the United States. Over half of the broiler inventory and half of the layer inventory in the United States are contained on farms with more than 1,000 animals.
Recent data collected by the EPA pursuant to the Clean Water Act identify significant water pollution problems caused by feedlots and animal holding areas. These data indicate that animal feedlots cause 7 percent of all impairment in U.S. lakes and 13 percent of all impairment in U.S. rivers. Nationally estimated feedlot pollution is comparable in magnitude to pollution from combined sewers or storm sewers and runoff. No conclusive evidence, however, currently indicates the relative water quality impacts caused by small versus large operations or regulated (NPDES-permitted) versus nonregulated (nonpermitted) feedlots and holding areas.
The farmers participating in federal programs that reserve highly erodible land from production or stimulate the use of conservation field practices continued to record successes in 1993. The programs continue to be successful despite proposed budget reductions, agency downsizing, and reorganization. Wetlands protection on agricultural lands received new attention following the 1993 Midwest flood.
Since 1987 cropland erosion on CRP acres has been reduced an average of 19 tons per acre per year. More than half of the erosion reduction occurred on CRP lands; the remaining on other highly erodible lands implementing conservation compliance practices. The CRP also has a pollution prevention aspect, as enrolled lands receive lower applications of fertilizer and pesticides than if they had remained as harvestable cropland. In 1993 Congress did not provide funds for the CRP, and therefore no signups were conducted.
By the end of 1993, farmers had developed 1.7 million conservation plans covering 143 million acres and had applied conservation plans approved by the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) on 98.4 million acres of highly erodible land (HEL) or 58 percent of the total HEL determined by the SCS to date. Another 45 million highly erodible cropland acres have approved plans that were in the process of being implemented and certified. Farmers have not requested or accepted conservation plans on 6 million HEL acres, which will make these farmers ineligible for future USDA program benefits.
Crop residue management is designated for 75 percent of the planned highly erodible acres. Conservation tillage was practiced on 89 million acres in 1992 and over 100 million acres in 1993. The most rapidly growing conservation tillage practice-no-till-nearly tripled in applied use between 1989 and 1993, from 14.1 million acres to 37 million.
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) is among the newest USDA conservation efforts. The 1990 Farm Bill authorized the WRP for voluntary restoration and protection of wetlands by agricultural landowners through permanent easements on up to 1 million acres of prior converted and farmed wetlands. It began in 1992 as a pilot program in nine states with an initial funding of $46 million to enroll a maximum of 50,000 acres. By restoring converted cropland and farmed wetlands, the nation can regain wetland functions and values. Many complex environmental relationships depend on wetlands, and their loss through wetland conversions have had adverse impacts on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
The WRP has gained broad-based public support and interest as a permanent way to restore wetlands and provide environmental values. Because it offers an optional land use for difficult-to-farm wet areas, the program is popular with farmers. Bids for the pilot program were five times the number of acres that could be accepted.
To be eligible for the pilot WRP, land had to be prior converted cropland, farmed wetlands, wetlands farmed under natural conditions, or contiguous uplands, riparian areas, or natural wetlands. Eligible cropland also had to be planted to an agricultural commodity in at least one of the crop years from 1986 to 1990.
Prior Converted Cropland. Such land has been modified for crop production to the extent that it no longer has wetland characteristics and, therefore, cannot be identified as a wetlands.
Farmed Wetlands. This cropland has been partially drained for crop production but still retains wetlands characteristics.
Wetlands Farmed under Natural Conditions. Such croplands need no modification for crop production and still retain wetlands characteristics.
Upland Buffer Areas and Natural Wetlands. Adjacent buffer areas and natural wetlands are eligible if they enhance and protect restored wetlands.
Riparian Areas. These buffer strips along rivers, streams, channels, or water bodies are eligible if they link restored wetlands.
On January 14, 1993, after reviewing bids, eligibility, costs, and benefits, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service accepted 298 bids for 49,888 acres to be enrolled as wetlands reserves from 265 farms.
An estimated 15 percent of the wetland area restored under the Wetlands Reserve Program will benefit directly the recovery of threatened or endangered species. Another 60 percent of accepted acres may be used by threatened and endangered species or lie within ongoing state and federal wetland restoration and wildlife project areas. A sample of expected benefits follows.
Mississippi/Louisiana. The restoration of a combined total of more than 26,281 acres of bottomland hardwood wetlands in Mississippi and Louisiana will have significant benefits to aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, commercial and recreational hunting and fishing, and drinking water quality. Studies indicate that more than 50 percent of all fish species, such as largemouth bass, sunfish, catfish, and crappie, use the flooded portions of bottomland hardwoods for feeding, spawning, and rearing young. In addition the retention of seasonal floodwaters in these forests removes sediments, pesticides, and nutrients from water running off adjacent agricultural fields. An additional 2,591 acres of emergent, scrub-shrub, and other wetlands habitat will be restored, providing critical resting and feeding sites for migratory waterfowl, wading birds, and neotropical migrants that move along the Mississippi Flyway. Species that will benefit from the restoration of a projected 3,037 acres in Louisiana include the black bear, bald eagle, and Bachman's warbler. In Mississippi 14,864 restored acres may be used by threatened or endangered species or lie in special wildlife management areas.
California. Ninety-four percent of the 6,026 acres to be restored and protected in California will be restored to emergent wetlands such as marshes or wet meadows. Of these restored areas, estimates are that 3,299 acres will be adjacent to or in close proximity to existing wetlands, which will provide a reliable seed source for native wetland plant species and benefit a diversity of wildlife. Establishment of persistent, emergent vegetation is expected to be rapid and significant gains in habitat benefits are likely to occur within two to three years after the initial restoration efforts. An estimated 237 acres of the restored wetlands should directly benefit the recovery of federally listed threatened or endangered species, including the Aleutian Canada goose, California freshwater shrimp, giant garden snake, and southern bald eagle. In California 85 percent of threatened or endangered species are dependent on, or associated with, wetlands.
Iowa/Minnesota/Wisconsin. The restoration of 7,449 acres of emergent (prairie pothole), forested, and scrub-shrub wetlands, and adjacent herbaceous and scrub-shrub upland habitat in these states should provide significant benefits to wildlife, especially migratory birds that depend on prairie potholes for critical nesting, foraging, and resting habitat. Of the WRP wetlands in these states, 718 acres will be next to publicly accessible or managed areas and 214 enrolled acres should directly aid the recovery of threatened or endangered species.
North Carolina. A total of 4,630 acres of prior converted cropland in North Carolina was accepted into WRP, with one tract containing more than 2,000 acres. The restoration of large, contiguous blocks of wetland habitat can be a critical factor in establishing viable, reproducing populations of interior forest animal and plant species, particularly large mammals, such as the black bear, red wolf, red-cockaded woodpecker, smooth loosestrife, various species of pitcher plants, and the Venus fly trap. The restoration of 3,703 acres should directly contribute to the recovery of threatened or endangered species that rely upon forested and scrub-shrub systems. In addition the restoration of wetlands near estuarine receiving waters will also improve water quality and yield a constant, diffuse flow of freshwater that provides essential nutrients to shellfish and juvenile finfish.
New York. Approximately 46 acres of prior converted and farmed wetlands, along with 24 acres of highly disturbed upland buffers, have been accepted into the pilot WRP for restoration and protection in New York. Although the acreage is small, restoration efforts will likely benefit recovery efforts for federally listed threatened or endangered species, as well as migratory birds and non-game wildlife.
Missouri. Of the 2,669 acres tentatively accepted in Missouri, 1,859 acres will be reestablished as forested wetlands, and 662 acres will be restored to emergent or marsh wetlands. All of the Missouri wetland acreage accepted is next to existing wetlands, which will increase contiguous habitat for permanent and migratory residents. Approximately 319 acres should directly benefit the recovery of threatened or endangered species.
Established in 1990 the USDA Water Quality Initiative (WQI) provides farmers with the knowledge and technical means to voluntarily address on-farm environmental concerns and related state water quality requirements. By 1993 the WQI had extended assistance to farmers in 200 selected projects in nearly all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the Pacific Basin. By implementing improved nutrient management, WQI participants used 50 million pounds less nitrogen and 65 million pounds less phosphorus annually. The initiative has the following projects:
Demonstration Projects. Each of 16 WQI demonstration projects will be operational for five years or more and emphasizes education and technical assistance to farmers on agriculture-related water quality concerns. Projects demonstrate and evaluate new and innovative technologies and water quality practices.
Hydrologic Unit Areas. A total of 74 projects, of at least five years in length, stress practical applications of water quality practices in areas defined through the EPA Section 319 process as having critical nonpoint source pollution problems.
Water Quality Special Projects. In 1993 appropriations were not provided for water special projects. Assistance to WQSP was limited to servicing long-term agreements from prior years; and
Regional/Estuarine Projects. A total of 6 regional and 21 estuarine projects were joint efforts with other agencies, such as the EPA, USGS, and NOAA, to seek solutions to water quality problems.
During 1993 improved practices such as nutrient and pesticide management, animal waste storage and utilization, wellhead protection, irrigation water management, and toxic/salt reductions were implemented in the Demonstration Projects and Hydrologic Unit Areas. Monitoring of water quality changes in surface and ground water, well water testing, and computer simulation modeling have shown cases of reduced concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides, salts, and pathogens entering U.S. waters.
Agricultural Water Quality Incentive Project. The Agricultural Water Quality Incentive Projects (WQIP), although not specifically part of the Water Quality Initiative, provided financial and technical assistance to farmers who voluntarily modified their agricultural practices to reduce water quality problems. To participate in the program, farmers must submit a water quality resource management plan, showing how water quality will be improved on their farm. In 1993 farmers submitted over 2,000 requests for improving water quality on more than 370,000 acres.
Agricultural chemical use surveys covering major crops and growing areas, initiated in 1990, continue with annual surveys. Data gathered includes types, application, timing and amounts of fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals used in agricultural operations.
On May 10, 1993, farmers who were not already keeping records, began to record the use of chemicals in their agricultural operations. The recordkeeping is restricted to pesticides, including products used, amounts, date applied, and treatment location. The data will be assembled into an annual survey and become part of a national pesticide database.
Forest ecosystems are sources of social and economic benefits and of homes for vast numbers of plants and animals; and as such they are vital components of the global environment. In 1993 federal land agencies continued to manage public lands and help private forestland owners use and manage their forests in a manner sensitive to their ecological value. For a discussion of forestry programs on federal lands, see Chapter 5: Public Lands and Federal Facilities, and for a discussion of uses of ecosystem management on forestlands, see Chapter 6: Ecosystem Approach to Management and Biodiversity.
Almost a third of the United States is covered with forests, which vary from sparse scrub forests of the arid interior West to the highly productive forests of the Pacific Coast and the South. Most of the nation's forests, 488 million acres, are in state and private ownership, with the remaining 249 million acres in federal forests.
Acreage. In 1993 forests covered 70 percent of the forestland area that existed in the year 1600. Since colonial times, however, much of this forestland area has been cutover and since regenerated, sometimes more than once, and about 307 million forested acres have been converted to other uses, mainly agricultural. More than 75 percent of the net conversion to other uses occurred in the 19th century. As agricultural productivity increased in the 1920s, cropland area stabilized as did forest area. This trend reversed itself during the agricultural boom of the 1950s and 1960s. Forestland area declined after 1952, eventually stabilizing between 1987 and 1993.
Timberland. A valuable component of U.S. forestland is its timberland-those 490 million acres capable of producing crops of industrial wood. Private landowners control three-quarters of this land. In the long run, this amount is expected to decrease, with a net loss in forest area of 5 percent by the year 2040. Not all timberland is being harvested; for example 250,000 acres of federal timberland are managed as wildlife areas or for other nontimber purposes.
Productivity. The United States has a supply of 858 billion cubic feet of wood, with 92 percent in growing stock. Most high productivity forestlands-lands capable of producing more than 120 cubic feet per acre per year-are in the South and in the Pacific Northwest. The largest areas in this class are in the eastern oak- hickory and loblolly/shortleaf pine types and in the western coastal Douglas-fir types. Total timber growth declined about 2 percent, all in softwoods, between recent surveys in 1986 and 1992.
Growth and Removal. The most recent inventory of growing stock in 1991 revealed that nationwide total timber growth exceeds removals. For the first time in its history, however, the United States does not have a large reserve of softwood sawtimber to draw upon to meet the need for housing and other purposes. In national forests, which contain 47 percent of the nation's standing softwood sawtimber inventory, the trend is toward protected areas and away from timber sales. In addition the 1991 inventory showed that southern softwood removals exceeded growth in all ownerships (federal, state, and private) by 12 percent.
Timber Harvest. In the United States, timber harvest rose rapidly during the last half of the 19th century (from 2.7 billion cubic feet in 1850 to 12.1 billion cubic feet in 1900). Production peaked in 1910 at 13 billion cubic feet. Because of replacement of wood fuels by coals and oil, more efficient use of wood, and wider use of wood substitutes, production of timber began a slow decline that lasted until after World War II. After the war increased demand for housing caused timber production to rise, and by the mid-1970s, timber production again reached record levels. Production has increased consistently since then. Timber supplies are now being affected by reduced harvests on public lands, increased mortality, and state and local regulations. Although nonindustrial private lands are not being intensively managed for timber or other forest resources, pressures will increase for these lands to satisfy a greater share of the nation's timber demand.
Reforestation. Americans reforested 2.4 million acres of public and private forestland in 1993 and a comparable acreage regenerated naturally. Reforestation can improve damaged ecosystems and help protect watersheds, soil, and crops. Of all acres planted in trees, 84 percent were on private lands and, of these, 41 percent were nonindustrial lands.
Forest Fires. In 1993 over 6,900 fires burned 238,625 acres of National Forest System lands (data for private forestlands are not currently available). These figures represent light fire activity due to a wetter than normal summer, except in areas of the Southwest, and a high level of preparedness and initial attack capability of fire fighting personnel. Hazardous fuels were reduced on 385,000 acres through a combination of prescribed burning and a variety of mechanical methods. In cooperation with state and local firefighting agencies, more than 350 million acres are protected with coordinated fire suppression response.
Forest Pests. Throughout the nation forest pests are causing serious damage. The European gypsy moth defoliated 1.4 million acres in 1993, affecting the health of oaks and other species, but on fewer acres than in previous years. The southern pine beetle damaged 10.4 million acres; the mountain pine beetle, 0.8 million acres; the eastern spruce budworm, 0.1 million acres; and the western spruce budworm, 0.4 million acres (the latter being below 1 million acres for the first time in over 25 years).
Asian Gypsy Moth. Federal inspectors detected an introduction of the Asian gypsy moth from foreign cargo in July 1993 at Wilmington, North Carolina. The only other known introductions of this pest were successfully eradicated in 1991 in a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the states of Oregon and Washington at a cost of $19 million. A decision on the need for eradication in North Carolina was scheduled for 1994 based on recommendations of a scientific panel.
Pine-Shoot Beetle. Since mid-1992 the pine shoot beetle, a native European bark beetle, has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has quarantined infested counties in those states to regulate the movement of Christmas trees and other forest products. In 1993 Forest Service scientists and state and private cooperators conducted tests on potential controls for forest pests.
USDA agencies sponsor a number of programs to assist nonindustrial private forestland owners in managing their forests for maximum benefits from timber to wilderness. Training programs also are provided for commercial loggers.
In 1993 the USDA Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and USDA Forest Service conducted programs that planted 306,000 acres of trees on nonindustrial private lands. The agencies provided technical and cost-share assistance to landowners through state foresters.
Forest Stewardship. The Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (now part of the Farm Service Agency), the Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and the nation's state foresters have established a cost-sharing Stewardship Incentives Program. It offers incentives to landowners who agree to plant trees, stabilize eroded lands, protect riparian areas and wetlands, improve wildlife and fisheries habitat, enhance forest recreation, and establish and renovate windbreaks and hedgerows. In 1993 the program helped landowners develop 19,000 forest stewardship plans to better manage natural resources on 2.6 million acres of private forestland.
Through Economic Recovery and Rural Development programs and Economic Diversification Studies, the Forest Service assisted over 100 rural communities in developing natural resource enterprises. The programs emphasize the interdependence of the environment and sustainable local economies.
Logger Education to Advance Professionalism. This pilot project of the USDA Extension Service is designed to update the logging community on forest ecology, silviculture, and interrelationships within the forest ecosystem. The Extension Service, working with public and private partners, instructs loggers on the impacts of timber harvesting on the nation's soil, water, plant, and animal resources. Eight states have received grants to develop and test the incorporation of silviculture and ecology instruction into planned or ongoing logger training.
Linking Neighbor to Neighbor. The Master Woodland Manager program recruits and trains lay volunteers to assist in promoting forestry and conservation to the nation's nonindustrial forest landowners. Private forest landowners tend to implement land management practices more readily, if they are encouraged by a trusted friend or neighbor who has forestry experience.
Federal agencies are adopting ecological approaches in their response to wildfire and pest problems that threaten forest health. A prime example is the use of ecological techniques in controlling introductions of exotic forest pests.
Forest Health Monitoring Program. In 1993 state forest resource agencies, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), EPA, and the Tennessee Valley Authority monitored long-term trends in the health of U.S. forest ecosystems. The monitoring network now includes 14 states. When fully implemented, the Forest Health Monitoring Program will provide regional and national data on the health of all U.S. forestland.
Pest Risk of Imports. In response to proposed log imports by the timber industry, the Forest Service assessed pest risks from Chilean logs. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service used the assessment to formulate regulatory measures excluding exotic pests from U.S. forests.
A variety of technological developments continue to occur which provide greater opportunities for more environmentally-sensitive harvesting methods.
Cut-To-Length Harvesting and Log Forwarding. This includes a mechanical harvester that fells, delimbs, and bucks trees into logs (normally up to 20 feet in length) and a log forwarded which loads and hauls the logs fully suspended and can offload directly onto trailers or decks. These harvesting techniques are less damaging to the environment than conventional ground-based harvesting equipment. They reduce impacts on soils, require relatively less road construction and smaller landings, and create less damage to residual stands. They also make it possible to economically harvest small timber.
Central Tire Inflation. This consists of electronic, pneumatic and mechanical equipment which enables a truck operator to adjust pressures in tires to match speed, load, and road conditions. Ultimately, it provides opportunities to reduce sedimentation from logging roads as well as reduce costs for road maintenance, road construction and truck maintenance, increase traction and breaking performance on steep roads, and improve comfort for drivers.
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