A coalition of more than 50 agriculture and conservation groups sent a letter to members of the House Appropriations Committee yesterday, asking them to reject nearly $1 billion in proposed cuts to farm bill conservation programs. But the spending reductions remained in place late in the day when the committee approved the ag appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

The letter, from groups that included the National Wildlife Federation, American Farmland Trust and American Society of Agronomy; asked the committee to “ensure that reasonable funding levels are continued,” pointing out that $500 million already was slashed from conservation programs in the fiscal 2011 spending bill.

“These conservation programs are crucial to the health and viability of agriculture and rural America,” said the letter. “The demand for enrollment in these programs routinely exceeds the funds available, even without any cuts. Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agricultural industry, drive up long-term costs for environmental mitigation, and threaten our nation’s food security.”

The bill includes large cuts to two popular programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program ($210 million cut) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($350 million cut). It also calls for reduced funding for the Grassland Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and other programs, and would reduce Natural Resources Conservation Service funding by nearly $100 million.

In total, the bill would decrease funding for USDA by more than 13%. It now goes to the full House for a vote, then to the Democratic-controlled senate, where its fate is uncertain.