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Farm bill boosts conservation

Each year, the federal government receives applications from Nebraska farmers seeking to participate in the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program. The applications are rated according to their potential to protect and bolster habitat for migratory birds, fish and other wildlife.

The program protected more than 80,000 acres of Nebraska wetlands and other lands, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission says, and strengthened under the new five-year farm bill passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump.

The farm bill boosts the Agricultural Conservation Easements Program by $450 million a year, says Jim Douglas, the director of Game and Parks. As a result, he says, the commission will be able to "do even more work with landowners, Natural Resources Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency and our partner organizations to provide habitat essential for maintaining healthy wildlife populations in Nebraska."

Such easements are important in Nebraska because almost all wildlife habitat in the state is on privately owned lands. They are a win-win, allowing farmers to pursue cultivation while preserving vital wildlife habitat.

- Omaha World-Herald

Secretary of State must be impartial

Incoming Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen has big shoes to fill. The office holder Evnen will replace, John Gale, is retiring after 18 years as our state's top election official.

One of Gale's first acts came in 2000 in reaction to Florida's presidential election debacle in which scores of ballots were disqualified, causing some voters to feel disenfranchised. Under Gale, Nebraska became one of the first states to modernize its election technology with ballot tabulation equipment and statewide computerized voter registration.

The paper ballots and scanning technology introduced in 2000 remain tamper-proof and contribute to Nebraskans' faith that their votes are counted and accurately recorded.

Evnen should continue the focus on election integrity and increasing voter participation. Rather than seeking the solution to a problem that doesn't exist, Evnen should keep voter ID on the shelf and instead continue the push to register more voters and promote larger election turnouts. We have to believe Nebraskans are more concerned about outside hacking than the possibility of voter fraud throwing an election.

- Kearney Hub

Border wall remains nonsensical

With illegal immigration at its lowest level in a decade, it's nothing short of stunning that the federal government is shut down over funding for a border wall. The reality is that immigration from Mexico has been decreasing since 2007, and the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. is at its lowest level since 2004, according to the Pew Research Center.

Further, the majority of illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico occurs in and around heavily secured ports of entry like San Diego, El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, where 654 miles of wall, fencing and other barriers already exist. Spending billions to build a structure along vast, rural stretches of the border doesn't help with security at the sections of the border that most need help.

No one is arguing for unsecure borders. The newly installed Democratic Congress voted Thursday to approve a stopgap funding bill that would reopen the federal government and provide $1.3 billion for border security in the form of manpower and equipment but not a wall. Trump has said he won't sign it, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to let a bill come to the Senate floor that the president won't sign.

Trump may feel he is being true to his base of ardent supporters, among whom the border wall ranked high on their list of priorities. But his focus is sorely misplaced.

- Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World

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