On each trip I take around the country, I’m not only impressed with the work farmers and ranchers are doing, but I’m also blown away by the beautiful landscapes and wildlife we encounter. Being surrounded by nature is part of why I love farming. And I know that’s the case for most farmers and ranchers across the country.
While we work the land to produce food, fiber and fuel, we also recognize the important role our land plays in sustaining wildlife. For generations, farmers and ranchers have worked to do more with less. We’ve voluntarily placed 140 million acres of land in conservation programs, which helps provide wildlife habitat. Farmers want to be partners in conserving our natural resources and the wildlife that we share those resources with.
We especially want to be partners in conserving threatened and endangered species. When Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, our representatives recognized that each species plays a role in maintaining a healthy and thriving environment. And while our society and the technology we use have changed a lot in the 50 years since the Endangered Species Act was passed, Congress hasn’t passed significant updates to reflect the realities on the ground. Instead, government agencies like the EPA and Fish and Wildlife Service have created confusing rules that give unelected bureaucrats the power to dictate what Americans do on their private property, and individual judges make sweeping decisions that have national impacts.
Endangered Species Act protections have brought some animals back from the brink of extinction, such as the bald eagle. But today, there are more than 1,600 listed species in the United States, with thousands of pages of complicated rules around these listings. That makes it very confusing for farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to determine what they can do on their land. The previous administration attempted to bring some clarity for landowners and other stakeholders by writing new rules to clarify what habitat really is and what protections apply to which types of listed species. But now the current administration wants to return to the old system of case-by-case decisions made by bureaucrats in Washington, and a single judge just repealed several of the clarifying rules. We simply cannot have this tug-of-war with regulations where farmers and ranchers are left guessing what’s next.
Endangered Species Act regulations affect daily practices like crop protection as well. EPA officials often put in place limitations on how pesticides can be used based on broad-sweeping species maps and without realistic assumptions of how a product is used. Despite what EPA officials might think, farmers use only the amount of pesticides we need to get the job done, which is often significantly less than the maximum amount allowed. We also need these products to utilize environmentally beneficial practices like no-till farming that prevent soil erosion and runoff. We are as careful and efficient as possible, for the safety of our families, communities and wildlife. Making decisions based on the best science available brings both clarity and certainty to landowners and other stakeholders.
Just as each species plays a role in a healthy environment, we all play a role in ensuring a healthy and safe future for our planet and the people we share it with. We also know that when we work together as partners, through voluntary agreements, and with ample opportunity for farmers to provide their perspective to inform each agency’s decisions, we can achieve so much more. That’s why we need the government to treat us as partners and focus on science and common sense. The survival of our nation’s wildlife and our farms and ranches depends on it.
This column appeared in the August | September 2022 Rural Route.