By Cheryl Stubbendieck

Nebraska Farm Bureau

Vice president/public relations

Carrots could become farmers' new favorite vegetable if the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 is adopted. It proposes offering farmers "carrots" for protecting endangered species rather than beating them with a stick for not protecting them.

The bipartisan act provides for tax credits for landowners who own habitat or incur costs to recover species and who are a party to a qualifying agreement. Grant income received by a landowner to do a conservation project also won't be included in taxable income. Political commentators are calling the approach "groundbreaking," but it's only so because the concept of offering incentives rather than pressing down with the heavy weight of regulation hasn't been used enough when it comes to endangered species.

If you're a parent, encouraging good behavior with rewards rather than threatening punishment for bad behavior is hardly a new idea. But we'll let the government use it, too.

"ESRA," as it's called, has the support of nearly a hundred property rights, environmental, resource, and hunting and fishing groups, including the American Farm Bureau. More than 80 percent of endangered species live on private property--much of it owned by farmers or ranchers--so it makes sense to offer property owners an incentive to care for endangered critters and plants. Farmers and ranchers are some of the best stewards of the land and the vast majority want to enjoy the listed species found on their property. But they have been put off by restrictions on the use of their land by Endangered Species Act regulations.

Offering the tax credit is a victory for both landowners and species. And it's being proposed at a time when other incentives may be disappearing into the ether. Both the Department of Interior's Landowner Incentive Program and Private Stewardship Grants programs are proposed to be zeroed-out in the federal FY 2008 budget. Begun five years ago, they seemed to work well and whatever funding was appropriated in a given year was used. Interior says they overlap with other programs, but hasn't provided details.

Nebraska U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson is an original cosponsor of ESRA. With the support of a broad group of organizations concerned with ownership and use of private property, the carrot approach ought to become law.

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