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Conserving Data in the Conservation Reserve
RFF Press | February 2010
Enrolling over 30 million acres, the U.S. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is the largest conservation program in the United States. Under the guidelines of the CRP, the federal government pays farmers to cease farming their land in the hopes of achieving a variety of conservation goals, including reduction of soil erosion, improvement in water quality, and increases in wildlife habitat. In Conserving Data, James T. Hamilton explores the role of information in the policy cycle as it relates to the CRP. He asks how the creation and distribution of information about what is going on across these millions of enrolled acres has influenced the development of the program itself.Of the many CRP stakeholders, each accesses a different set of information about the CRP's operations. Regulators have developed the Environmental Benefits Index as a rough indicator of a field’s conservation benefits and adopted that measure as a way to determine which lands should be granted conservation contracts. NGOs have used data from these contracts to make information about how CRP monies are allocated publicly available. Congress members have used oversight hearings and GAO reports to monitor the Farm Service Agency’s conservation policy decisions. Reporters have localized the impact of the CRP by writing stories about increases in wildlife and hunting in their areas on CRP fields.Conserving Data brings together and analyses these various streams of information, drawing upon original interviews with regulators, new data from Freedom of Information Act requests, and regulatory filings. Using the CRP as a launch point, Hamilton explores on the role of information, including "hidden information" in the design and implementation of regulatory policy.

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