Bush Touts Plan to Expand Farmland Conservation Program

In the crucial swing state of Minnesota, which President Bush lost by a narrow margin in 2000, he pledged this week to expand the nearly 20-year-old Conservation Reserve Program, whereby farmers are paid an annual rent for setting aside environmentally sensitive land. The program pays out roughly $1.67 billion a year to protect some 35 million acres of land. Bush said he wants to extend the program to encompass grasslands and more wetlands, and he plans to offer farmers early sign-up, with the aim of enrolling twice as much land as is expected to lapse from the program in coming years. Some might question just how resolute an environmentalist it takes to renew a successful program that involves direct federal handouts to farmers in swing states during an election year, but here at Grist we are not so cynical. We salute the president and the program, which has reduced soil erosion and led to millions of acres of restored wetlands and newly planted trees.