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Transcript of remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns To the National Association of Conservation Districts

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Transcript of remarks by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns To the National Association of Conservation Districts

SEC. MIKE JOHANNS: "Well, thank you very much. That was a beautiful introduction. I appreciate that, and, gee, what a nice, warm welcome. It reminds me of a story that I tell a lot. I'd just been elected governor of Nebraska, but I hadn't been sworn in yet; I was in that period of time between election and inauguration. And I was invited to go out and give a speech in Kearney, Nebraska. So Steph and I, we head on out to Kearney.

"And we get there, and I'm introduced -- nice introduction, just like today. And as I'm making my way to the podium everybody stands up and applauds. And so I get to the podium and I say, 'That's very nice of you, but I haven't done anything yet.' And somebody in back yelled out, 'When you do we won't be standing.'

[Laughter.]

"It's probably reassuring that I've done this job for a couple months and I still get a nice, warm welcome. Well, let me say it is a pleasure for me to be here today. I'm going to talk to you a little bit about our conservation efforts. I use that term very intentionally.

"This is about our work together-- not just me, not just the President, but all of us working together. We're partners in this effort. We may not always agree on everything. That's impossible. I don't agree with my wife all the time, and I love her to death. But I do want to make you a promise today, and that is that agree or disagree you're going to find that this Ag Secretary is the most open in history. My door will always be open. I'm always willing to listen to another viewpoint.

"And the other thing I wanted to promise is that your views will always be respected. When you come to my office you'll be treated with dignity and respect and equality.

"A policy of trust and listening can help both the USDA and its partners like this group. It can help us do our jobs far better than if we were going to attempt to do them alone.

"President Bush came to office with a new vision for our conservation efforts. I believe that's obvious. Back then we were working less productively than we are now. In 2002, we only had 87 million acres of farmland enrolled in Farm Bill Conservation Programs. Now, ladies and gentlemen, there are 184 million acres.

"It's important to note that we are not only doing more, but we're doing it more efficiently. We spent just under $30 per acre on Farm Bill Conservation Programs in 2002. Now with more acres enrolled we are spending just under $21 an acre. Why is this? It is not just a question of commitment, though this Administration's commitment is very obvious. It is also a question of looking at conservation in a new and a different way.

"Not so long ago it did seem that those who make a living on the land were locked in a struggle, a struggle with those who wanted to preserve our natural resources. But President Bush believes that those who depend on the land to make a living are truly the best stewards of that land.

"And today there's consensus that conservation and economic success don't have to be mutually exclusive. It's a vision of cooperative conservation, working with and not against our producers. In keeping with that vision, President Bush has proposed a strong budget for conservation efforts in fiscal year 2006.

"The budget proposes $3.8 billion for continued implementation of the conservation programs that were authorized by the 2002 Farm Bill. It will allow the USDA and landowners and operators to build on a tremendously strong record for cooperative voluntary conservation. The President's first term included the most significant four-year investment in conservation in history.

"Last year was an appropriate capstone to that tremendous period of time. I'm pleased today to release a new compilation of data and information on our conservation efforts in 2004. And I'm going to talk to you about those efforts. This information I believe very strongly shows that the President's commitment is to a cooperative, voluntary conservation program. And ladies and gentlemen, it's paying off.

"In 2004 USDA's Natural Resources and Conservation Service invested $3 billion in private land conservation. That money included $35 million to help 2,200 producers conserve and make improvements on 2 million acres of land under the Conservation Security Program (CSP). CSP rewards agricultural producers with a history of good environmental stewardship while providing incentives for additional conservation practices.

"Last fall we announced that for 2005 we are making 202 new watersheds eligible for CSP program in addition to the 18 pioneer watersheds from 2004. Those watersheds represent nearly 208,000 farms and ranches covering more than 185 million acres in every state and the Caribbean area.

"Now we are in the midst of a sign-up period for CSP, and I hope farmers and ranchers are taking advantage of this great opportunity. But our conservation investments in 2004 included much more than CSP-- $720 million to assist more than 46,000 farmers and ranchers working with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, 430,000 acres enrolled in the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, 200,000 acres enrolled in the Wetlands Reserve Program, 115,000 acres in the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and 283,000 acres in the Grassland Reserve Program.

"And 2004 also had one of the highest acceptance rates in the history of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for about 76 percent of all applicants. As a result, we will raise the total acreage of CRP to 35.6 million acres or 90 percent of the total 39.2 million acres that were authorized by the Farm Bill.

"We are also offering early reenrollments and extensions so that existing CRP contracts do not expire. CRP is a genuine results-oriented approach to conservation. We don't just look at the inputs; we want to know what's making a difference. We want to know that we are making a difference. And ladies and gentlemen, we are.

"Reports indicate that more than 2.1 million new ducks are attributable to the CRP acres each year. Pheasant populations are at or near record high levels in many midwestern states. CRP is restoring 250,000 acres of habitat buffers for bobwhite quail, upland birds and other species. And the President has announced a new initiative to increase the population of northern bobwhite quail by 750,000 birds annually.

"We have also begun an initiative to plant 500,000 acres of bottomland timber on wetlands. And we are continuing our efforts to restore 250,000 acres of wetlands outside of the 100-year flood plain.

"USDA's wetlands efforts have been tremendously successful. From 2001 through 2003 agricultural wetlands increased by 131,000 acres. That's a net increase of 66,000 acres per year. That's what we mean by 'results-oriented.'

"And 2004 was also a banner year for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CREP. CREP is a true example, not just of voluntary cooperative conservation but of the power of the federal/state partnership. That's something that I as a former governor greatly appreciate.

"In 2004 USDA signed CREP agreements in the Ohio River Valley, in New Jersey, and in Pennsylvania. These agreements will help landowners improve water quality and prevent erosion on nearly 170,000 acres of land. All of this adds up to more than a listing of programs, acres of dollars. It's a new vision in conservation, a new vision that is in action.

"It means that thousands upon thousands of farmers and ranchers in every single state are being rewarded for conserving natural resources on their own land. It means that landowners are working with the federal government in a vast new partnership that is producing results in ways that the old methods never could. It means conserving resources, most importantly, not only for this generation but for our children and for our grandchildren.

"And the possibilities of this new vision I believe are unlimited. For example, we are encouraging producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own. It is important to remember that not all of our natural resources are below our feet. Two weeks ago I announced the availability of the voluntary reporting of greenhouse gases carbon management evaluation tool or Comment-VR. Comment VR helps farmers and ranchers report the effectiveness of various methods for agricultural, soil carbon sequestration. It is part of an ongoing cooperative process between USDA and the Department of Energy. Comment VR is the perfect example of cooperative conservation, which benefits both the environment as well as ag producers' bottom line.

"Of course there are some lands in which the American people themselves are the landowners, but the federal government holding that land in trust. And we are working to be as good a steward of those lands as any other landowner. This year we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the USDA Forest Service. Back in 1905 there was a genuine concern that the age of machines would simply wipe away the nation's forests. But it hasn't. At the beginning of the 20th Century the United States was home to about 76 million Americans, and 760 million acres of forestland.

"While our population today has nearly quadrupled, the number of forestland acres has changed by only slightly more than 1 percent. It's something we can be proud of, and we intend to build on that record of success.

"That's why the President's budget includes a $34 million increase in funding for the Healthy Forests Initiative, something that was long overdue. The key to the initiative was to give local experts the flexibility and the tools needed to treat forests. In 2004 the first year under that law, USDA and the Department of Interior together treated a record 4.2 million acres of land, an increase of 1.6 million acres over the previous year's total.

"And in the four years that President Bush has been in office, federal land management agencies have treated hazardous fuels on 11 million acres of public lands, twice the pace of the previous eight years.

"It is everyone's responsibility to conserve our natural resources so that all Americans will be able to enjoy and benefit from those resources for generations to come. Our success at USDA depends on working with landowners in new ways. It also depends on the continued hard work and dedication of state and local governments and independent entities like conservation districts that are absolutely critical to our mission.

"And it is a mission by the way. Preserving our natural resources is not just a nine-to-five job. It's something that I know you are passionate about, and I am also. I share in that passion. We've had a lot of success, but I have no intention of stopping now.

"So I conclude my remarks today by saying thank you for that partnership and your dedication and indicate to you my willingness to work with you in the next four years. And now let's look toward the future where we can do even more together. Thank you, and God bless you all."

[Applause.]

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