The Perils and Pitfalls of Using Government Programs

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Last winter, I spent a day at a meeting with the Pennsylvania DCNR and the USDA to discuss landowner give – aways.  The programs funded with the Farm Bill include CREP, FLEP, WHIP, CRP and Wetland Reserve Program. 

 That’s quite a mouthful of acronyms but, basically they all amount to government programs designed to motivate landowners to do certain things on their land that they think needs to be done and use money confiscated from American taxpayers to spread around.

 The government drones at this meeting got everyone of us consultants and other professionals psyched up to go out and sell the idea of using these programs to get work done on the land.  These programs were to be “well funded” and flush with money so “go out and get some landowners to do the work and we will see that it gets funded.”

 It sounds great – free money for food plots, wetland mitigation, getting paid to not plant crops, getting funds for planting trees and native grasses.  What could be better, right?

 First of all, many of the programs such as CRP and CREP pay farmers to plant trees and warm season grass near streams so that the Chesapeake Bay gets less nutrients and topsoil.  Cleaning up The Bay is a great idea.  Most government programs start out that way.  What too often happens is that people who own land that is eligible, take advantage of the situation for financial benefit only.  And farmers who were not going to plant acreage anyway because it is poor unproductive land put into CRP and get payments for it at the taxpayers’ expense.  An example of poor planning and effectiveness of these programs is a place I planted with trees.  The landowner is a wealthy man who owns a tract he inherited.  There is a spring creek next to it.  He rents it to a local farmer who struggles with hanging on to his small dairy.  The government paid this landowner to plant the trees at the edge of the field and took ten acres away from the farmer who was cultivating it.  If he were cultivating up to the stream bank, I would say it was a good move, however, the land already had a tree, grass, brush buffer of 40 or 50 feet along the stream.  The next property upstream is a very small dairy with cows standing in the stream and beating up the banks to mud.  This is where the stream buffer was needed, not where it was put.  In summary, taxpayers are paying a guy who doesn’t need it for a project we didn’t need and the farmer lost crop acreage and the place where the stream improvements were needed did not get treated.   Way to go NRCS!  These examples can be found everywhere. 

Another pitfall is, of course, dealing with the bureaucrats who administer the programs.  You have to practically let them perform a rectal exam on you to see if you are eligible.  Then you have to fit your project into their cookie cutter guidelines, regardless of what you actually need, then you have to do it in a certain time frame, which may not be conducive to your project.  Then they have to inspect it to see if it is done to their liking, which it may not since they forced you to do it incorrectly.  The practices they have decided are the hot topic for the time may or may not fit in with your needs or plans.  Then, after the wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly for a few months, you might get your money.  As a contractor, I did two of these projects this year.  One was done in June.  I have not been paid for it yet.  The landowner says he has just recently received his check.  One herbicide job I did recently I will probably get stiffed on.  The NRCS uses the DCNR personnel to do the field work on projects.  The DCNR guy took a look at it and, not understanding where the property lines were or how I applied the chemicals, rejected the job.   No discussion, no return phone call from either agency.  Government drones get their paycheck every week no matter whether they get any work done or not, and begrudge every check the contractor receives for some reason.  Never mind the fuel, materials and hard labor spent on the project.  Who cares, right?

Last winter, after the ra-ra meeting I talked a landowner into using government programs to get some food plots and some warm season grass planted on the property he just bought for hunting.  To make a long story short, we would have had his property set up for hunting season, but nothing is planted.  As the planting season came and went with no approval for funding, and the NRCS asked for more financial information, he basically told them to shove their program and went ahead with his own money and time.  If they were so gung-ho about getting wildlife projects done, why wasn’t the money they said they wanted to get spent there ready to go in the spring planting season?

If you want to do wildlife projects on your property and you don’t want to spend a lot of money right now, I can take a look at what you want to get done, prioritize the projects and we can do a little each year, do it correctly and effectively and leave the government out of it.  They will just screw things up anyway. 

If you want to give it a try and you don’t mind jumping through hoops and waiting and possibly not getting funded at all, I can help you get your applications done so that they get the proper attention.

Stephen A. Chilcote


About the Author:

Wildlife habitat manager and consulting forester from Central PA. Studied environmental Agriculture specializing in wildlife management and Forestry. B.S. Agriculture, Masters degree in Forestry. 30 years experience in land investment, forestry and wildlife habitat improvement. Currently working as a Farm Bill Forester for Pheasants Forever on Game Commission and Golden Winged Warbler Initiative.