At long last farmers will be compensated for the work they do to protect natural resources.

The Conservation Security Program included in the new Farm Bill will pay farmers for protecting soil and water quality through an application process not unlike the traditional Conservation Reserve Program.

The big difference between the two is that the security program doesn't require farmers take productive land out of production to qualify, it pays them for the investment they've already made to protect soil and water.

Buffers between cultivated or pasture lands and rivers are arguably the best possible scenario for the protection of surface water, but until now, the cost of such buffers has been borne by farmers and ranchers.

As all of society benefits from the protection, why not spread the cost? The CSP does just that.

Umatilla County is one of 18 test sites for this program nationally. It will generate nearly $5 million in income to those residents who qualify.

This federal program is a model for any approach that attempts to find a balance between the responsible use and protection of natural resources.

That balance is of vital importance in the Northwest, especially in Oregon.

Vice President Dick Cheney is sure to talk about this on Friday when he campaigns in Pendleton for the administration, and deservedly so.

But this program should not be a political issue. It's a common sense approach to rewarding landowners for their conscientious stewardship of the land and water that fulfills us all.

It's been talked about for years, and it's long overdue.

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