The Farm Bill provides a policy vehicle for implementing conservation programs with the potential to alter land use on a large spatial scale. The conservation payments under the Farm Bill dwarf the collective investment of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Endangered Species Act, Pittman-Robertson Act, and Conservation and Reinvestment Act. However, the ecological value of past policy has varied by program, practice, region, and wildlife species, resulting in a broad array of wildlife habitat and population effects ranging from positive to negative. We argue the conservation provisions of the Farm Bill can produce more consistent positive wildlife habitat benefits when policy (program statutes, rules, practices, and practice standards) is developed in the context of explicit goals identified as part of large-scale conservation initiatives. For example, initiatives like the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, Partners in Flight, and the Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative (NBCI) set science-based goals and objectives to facilitate wildlife species population recovery and sustainability at the landscape scale. We contend that the best ecological and societal cost/benefit ratio is achieved when Farm Bill conservation programs and practices are developed to address these specific habitat goals. We present a case study illustrating how a Conservation Reserve Program option (Conservation Practice 33—Habitat Buffers for Upland Birds) specifically addresses NBCI goals and objectives. We discuss the successes, failures, and lessons learned by NCBI in policy formulation, practice development, programmatic delivery, and evaluation.
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