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We don’t need another Dust Bowl

We don’t need another Dust Bowl
© Getty Images

The Dust Bowl taught us lessons the hard way — lessons that an entire generation of Americans would never forget. Years of unsustainable agricultural practices helped create one of the worst disasters in our nation’s history. Out of that experience, farmers, ranchers and the public came together to improve agricultural practices and design government programs to heal the land.

The purpose of these programs and their practices was to prevent similar catastrophes in the future. Since then, farm bill conservation programs have grown into an essential component of our agricultural system, which feeds the world and protects our natural resources. This accomplishment has been the result of farm bills engaging working landowners in the sustainable stewardship of their livelihoods and lands, which are often also critically important to migratory corridors, species conservation and water resources.

We don’t need to re-learn those painful and costly lessons, yet we are headed that way under the drastic cuts to farm bill conservation programs currently being proposed by the federal administration.

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And, as we saw during the Dust Bowl, it is not just the environment or the endurance of the landowners at stake. In many rural areas, the strength of the local economy and community depends on stable farms and ranches. Collaborative efforts funded through farm bill conservation programs have empowered producers to do more with less while keeping food prices affordable. In a difficult business, this investment often serves as the linchpin in efforts to keep family farms and ranches intact.  

  

In the West, farm bill programs are also essential in conserving the iconic landscapes that serve as the foundation of our local and regional economies. Whether it is increasing available water for streams or protecting wildlife, restoring forest health, protecting fragile soils or improving rangeland, the work farmers and ranchers do through farm bill conservation programs supports a better economy and environment for everyone.  

Perhaps due to their legacy of successful collaboration, farm bill conservation programs have a long history of bipartisan support. No one wants to see another Dust Bowl or the loss of important wildlife habitat. We all recognize the wide-ranging economic benefits to providing farmers and ranchers the tools they need to keep their lands healthy. 

Farm bill funds are a partnership investment with ranchers and farmers to ensure a secure and positive future — one that also provides a good return to taxpayers. It costs far less to conserve and maintain our lands and natural resources in good condition than to recover following disaster.

It is therefore troubling that the Trump administration’s budget outlines severe cuts to these programs and the complete abolishment of others. If enacted, the administration’s myopic proposal would be a significant blow to our country’s farms, ranches and rural economies, and it would compromise our country’s almost century-long legacy of sustainable stewardship on private land. 

There is room for improvement in every government program and as in the past we look forward to engaging with policymakers on how to make farm bill conservation work better for everyone. However, eliminating conservation programs, as the administration proposes, completely ignores the essential role these programs have played in our history and is tone-deaf to the needs of rural Americans, many of whom enthusiastically supported this president’s election.

As Congress begins its work on the next farm bill, it is critical that our elected officials work together to continue the tradition of farm bill conservation started in the 1930s. We ask that Congress fully fund the conservation programs that have served our rural economies for generations and been so successful in protecting the natural resources that all our citizens so highly value.

Lesli Allison is the executive director of the Western Landowners Alliance (WLA), established by landowners in 2011 to advance policies and practices that sustain working lands, connected landscapes and native species. WLA members steward approximately 14 million acres of deeded and leased public land in the American West.