Conserving Amphibians and Reptiles on Private Lands: The 2023 Farm Bill

The Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of federal legislation affecting the conservation of amphibian and reptile species and their habitats. This far-reaching legislation sets important national food and agricultural policy through wide-ranging provisions related to everything from risk management to nutrition and rural development programs. 

It is also by far the largest source of US investment in the conservation of soil, water, land, and wildlife on private lands. The 2018 Farm Bill authorized about $30 billion for conservation programs over five years. Through its voluntary, incentive-based programs, the bill enables farmers, ranchers, and foresters to protect wildlife and habitats. These programs incentivize landowners to conserve sensitive ecosystems like wetlands and grasslands, improve water and soil quality, mitigate climate change impacts, and restore habitat for imperiled species, all while improving the sustainability and economic viability of their operations. 

Given the sheer scale of private lands in the US, the importance of the Farm Bill for protecting wildlife, including reptiles and amphibians, cannot be overstated. Privately-owned agricultural or forest land makes up more than 70% of the US land base. More than two-thirds of all federally-listed species rely on private lands for all or part of their life cycles, and for more than half of listed species, 80% or more of their habitat is on private land. 

One such species is the bog turtle; between 80-90% of its remaining habitat occurs on private agricultural lands. Farm Bill conservation programs have been critically important in slowing population declines for the northern population of the bog turtle. Conservation efforts on private agricultural lands are essential to the recovery of many of ARC’s priority species: Chiricahua leopard frogs, gopher tortoises, reticulated flatwoods salamanders, eastern hellbenders, and Louisiana pinesnakes, among others.

Congress must renew the Farm Bill every five years, and the current bill expires on September 30, 2023. The reauthorization of the bill provides an opportunity to adjust funding levels and improve upon existing policy to increase producers’ ability to restore habitats, protect biodiversity, and enhance the ability of human and wildlife communities to adapt to climate change. ARC is working to ensure that the 2023 Farm Bill’s programs will be beneficial for amphibians and reptiles – and equitable for producers.

We developed these recommendations to improve conservation outcomes for reptiles, amphibians, and other wildlife in balance with the needs of agricultural producers and their communities. In the development of these recommendations, we: 

  • considered strategies for ensuring that wildlife concerns get adequate consideration among the many environmental challenges addressed through the Farm Bill, 

  • closely analyzed the programs that impact some of the most important habitats for our priority species, such as wetlands and longleaf pine ecosystems, and 

  • recommended changes that would allow for programs to deliver more effective and efficient outcomes for wildlife and producers of all backgrounds.

ARC’s priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill include:

  • Addressing chronic underfunding and ensuring that conservation programs have enough resources to meet producer demand and conservation goals

  • Strengthening the wildlife focus of conservation programs and ensuring programs are not implemented in a manner that could be harmful to amphibians, reptiles, or their habitats

  • Preventing degradation or loss of important habitat types for amphibians and reptiles, such as intact wetland and forest ecosystems

  • Encouraging USDA’s growing emphasis on climate-smart agricultural practices in a manner that provides co-benefits for wildlife and greenhouse gas reduction

  • Providing more equitable access to Farm Bill programs for historically underserved producers to improve soil, water, and habitat health on their lands

  • Streamlining the program application and contracting process and improving outreach and technical assistance in underserved communities to ensure limited funding goes to the producers who need it most

  • Increasing financial and technical support for small-scale farmers; smaller farm sizes are correlated with increased on-farm biodiversity and climate resilience; smaller farms are more likely to be owned by women, beginning farmers, and historically marginalized producers

Read ARC’s Policy Recommendations for the 2023 Farm Bill here.