HEROES Act Establsihes Emergency Habitat Program, Increases CWD Funding

May 13, 2020 | by National Deer Alliance

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or HEROES Act, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 12. While the majority of the 1800+ page bill focuses on the physical and economic health and recovery of America both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, some conservation provisions have found their way into the text.

It’s not uncommon for seemingly unrelated provisions to ride the coattails of a larger, much more significant bill, and we’re seeing that with the HEROES Act. Two such conservation provisions are included in the HEROES Act: an emergency Soil Health and Income Protection Pilot Program (SHIPP) and funding increases to fight wildlife diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD).

The Soil Health and Income Protection Pilot Program was created by the 2018 Farm Bill as an extension of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Specifically, SHIPP allows landowners participating in CRP in the Prairie Pothole region (Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, or South Dakota) to enter short-term contracts to receive rental payments from the federal government for sidelining acreage from agriculture for the term of the contract. The emergency SHIPP provisions in the HEROES Act establish a new, standalone program that does not impact the original SHIPP program created by the 2018 Farm Bill. In short, a new, seperate program eliminates many Congressional hurdles that would be necessary to amend the Farm Bill CRP program. Ideally, a new program will allow conservation needs to be addressed without much contention. Highlights of the new emergency program include:

  • Enrollment of up to  5 million acres
  • Eligibility outside the Prairie Pothole region
  • Contract duration limited to 3 years
  • No percentage cap on eligible acreage on individual contracts
  • Provides a hard $70/acre annual rental rate
  • Allows landowners to request rental payments up front

The National Deer Alliance (NDA) outlines state and federal land management as one of its key focus areas. Certainly, the HEROES Act provisions greatly expand opportunities for land conservation, and this means more acres set aside for wildlife. Previously established land conservation programs are well-known wildlife habitat creators, and the vastness in both enrollable acreage and geographic location established by the emergency SHIPP provisions greatly increases benefits to both wildlife and broader ecosystems. The provisions should also prove successful at encouraging more landowners to considered placing some of their acreage into conservation – again bolstering the acreage set aside for wildlife and wildlife habitat.

Also included in the HEROES Act are various provisions supporting increased funding for the monitoring, management and prevention of wildlife diseases throughout the U.S., including CWD. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) would receive a total of $71 million in increased funding, including $21 million for federal government wildlife disease research and $50 million for state and tribal grants. The Act also includes a provision that gives the United State Geological Survey (USGS) $40 million in funding for “technical assistance, bio-surveillance of wildlife and environmental persistence studies and related research, database development, and accompanying activities.” 

Additionally, the HEROES Act includes provisions for wildlife diseases outreach and education. Namely, USGS and USFWS will “communicate risk factors associated with wildlife diseases to the public,” and “conduct research on human dimensions of wildlife disease transmission and on effective outreach to stakeholders to help manage wildlife disease.”

NDA outlines deer diseases as one of its priority areas, and CWD is our highest priority in this category. CWD is an unprecedented threat to healthy deer herds, and significant funding is needed to monitor, manage and prevent the spread of the disease. State wildlife agencies are typically under-staffed and under-funded, and this financial deficit is only bolstered by a decline in hunting license sales and hunter participation nationwide. Increased funding at both the federal and state levels will go a long way in our fight against CWD.

“NDA is pleased to see strong conservation provisions included in the HEROES Act,” said Torin Miller, NDA’s policy and outreach coordinator. “At a time when most, including lawmakers, are rightfully focused on family, health and the economy, it’s encouraging to see the importance of conservation and natural resources shining through.”

Join NDA in supporting the SHIPP and CWD provisions included in the HEROES Act. Visit the NDA Grassroots Advocacy Center, where you can directly email your U.S. Senators and Congressional Representatives and ask for their support for habitat creation and conservation, as well as wildlife disease research and management.