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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. KOHL:

S. 218. A bill to amend the Food Security Act of 1985 to provide incentives to landowners to protect and improve streams and riparian habitat; to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

MR. KOHL. Mr. President, there are a number of different conservation programs aimed at farmers, with a variety of goals. While many of those programs improve water quality and stream health, none are primarily focused with improving fish habitat. The bill I am introducing today would focus USDA conservation dollars on restoring high quality fish habitat in streams around rural America.

While there are millions of miles of streams throughout the country, few of these streams are able to support the kind of first rate fisheries that they have in the past. Agriculture and industry have altered riverbeds over the years, slowing the movement of water for their own purposes. The EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service have found that 81 percent of all stream fish habitats in the U.S. have been adversely affected by either pollution or other disturbances. In places where alterations in the river are no longer needed, they should be removed to restore the ecosystem for the native fish.

Clean, fresh, fast moving streams are a necessary requirement for some of our most popular game fish. Trout, one of our most valuable and sought-after game fish, need very specific conditions to thrive, and those conditions have been harder and harder to find. Currently roughly 2 percent of all freshwater fishes are either considered rare or at risk. Habitat loss is part of the problem with only 19 percent of streams and rivers in the lower 48 of high enough quality for wild or scenic status.

This bill, the Stream Habitat Improvement Program, is about more than just preserving an ecosystem or building wildlife populations, this is also about tourism and recreation. Fishing in this country is big business. In Wisconsin alone there are almost 950,000 anglers, and almost half a million more come from out of State to fish in Wisconsin. Together these anglers spend $1 billion on fishing related expenses in our State. Nationwide recreational fishing is related to $41 billion in economic activity. An industry with this much impact around the country deserves our consideration.

The bill introduced today would provide payments to farmers who engage in conservation projects that improve stream health. The bill is based on the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program, but focused more closely on streams, creeks, and rivers. Farmers who participate in the program will make improvements on streams running through their property. Improvements could include repairing shoreline, removing barriers to fish passage, and planting trees to shade the water and strengthen stream banks. Farmers who are willing to make the efforts to improve spawning grounds and add cover for fish can do a lot to rehabilitate this resource.

Not every river and stream needs to be returned to its natural state, or be granted wild and scenic status. But this bill tries to take a small step toward repairing a resource for the future. Fishing, especially trout and fly fishing, are big business in this country, as well as important environmental indicators. Our efforts to further stream quality will have both economic benefits as well as natural ones, and those are the kind of efforts that everyone in Congress can get behind. I ask unanimous consent that the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

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