Exploring Post-CRP Decision-Making in the Southern Great Plains
Barnes, Jessica C.
Dayer, Ashley A.
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The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federal program that incentivizes the re-establishment of vegetative cover on formerly cropped land across the United States, has contributed significantly to soil health, water quality, and the status of wildlife populations. However, because CRP contracts are time-limited, the land use decisions made by landowners when their contracts end determine the durability of CRP’s benefits for soils, water, and wildlife, as well as the efficiency of federal expenditures. In order to understand the factors that might catalyze the persistence of CRP grasslands after contracts end, we conducted a two-phase, multi-year social science study of landowners’ experiences before, during, and after CRP in the southern Great Plains. Phase I, which was conducted from 2017-2019, included qualitative data collection through participant observation and interviews with landowners in the region, focus groups with current CRP contract holders, and a mail survey administered to landowners with current CRP contracts as well as those with contracts that had expired between 2011 and 2017. This report presents methods, results, and recommendations from Phase II, which was conducted from 2019-2021. Phase II was designed to follow up on and further explore key survey findings from Phase I through workshops with conservation practitioners and in-depth, qualitative interviews with landowners from the study area. Our conversations with landowners highlighted the intersecting biophysical, socio-economic, and institutional factors that shape decision-making about post-CRP land use in the southern Great Plains. In light of these factors, we make seven recommendations for the design and delivery of CRP that may promote the persistence of grasslands and associated environmental benefits after program participation ends.