Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet praised a new partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) that will allow farmers, ranchers, and forest owners who abide by wildlife conservation practices to protect their land and operations from government interference.
The announcement builds upon NRCS' Working Lands for Wildlife initiative, in which land owners voluntarily implement proven conservation practices to protect certain threatened wildlife species, including several species found in Colorado, such as the greater sage grouse, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, and the lesser prairie-chicken.
Through this new agreement, private landowners who sign contracts to improve habitat for these species will now be given 30 years of assurance that, provided they live up to the provisions outlined in the contract, they will not have to change their operations, even if FWS scientists later decide listing one of those species under the Endangered Species Act is warranted.
"This change is a huge victory for private landowners in rural Colorado who are worried that, despite their best efforts to conserve certain species today, the federal government might come in and ask them to change or curtail their operations in the future," Bennet said. "This reform removes that concern and gives Colorado farmers and ranchers the peace of mind they deserve."
Currently, Colorado producers across the state have enrolled 114,000 acres in conservation programs that stand to benefit from this agreement.
Bennet, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, has been a vocal advocate for Colorado's farmers and ranchers, most recently fighting for the passage of a full five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which, among other things, includes strengthened conservation programs that Bennet worked on with Coloradans and secured in the bill. The bill passed the Senate in June, but has yet to pass the House.