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Published:January 10th, 2008 01:31 EST
Duck Conservation: CRP, Sodsaver crucial for the future

Duck Conservation: CRP, Sodsaver crucial for the future

By Chester Moore (Editor)

Note to readers: This is the second installment of my "100 Stories for the Ducks" series detailing problems and solutions dealing with waterfowl conservation. I have pledged to write 100 articles over the course of the next five years appearing in publications ranging from Texas Fish & Game to the local newspapers (Port Arthur News and Orange Leader) that I write for. I have chosen the SOP to debut the series and will publish many of the key stories here.---Chester Moore

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is a subsidy program where the federal government pays landowners to keep land as wildlife habitat and a big part of that is preserving native grasslands and wetlands in the Midwest.

DU estimates there have been 4.7 million acres added to the Dakotas alone under CRP and that nesting success there is 46 percent higher than if it were cropland. They also estimate CRP recruits about two million ducks into the population every year that would not be there otherwise.

“If we lose CRP we lose a lot, so its important that when it comes back up for renewal in 2007 with the Farm Bill, that hunters write their congressmen and senators and ask for support on this highly important issue,” said Rogers Hoyt, of DU Texas and Mexico.

“We had a lot of hunters get into duck hunting in the 1990s after CRP was in place and they experienced the big boom that it caused in populations. Now that other factors are causing problems, some of these hunters do not realize how the hunting was before CRP was there and many have not heard much about the affects of the program because it mainly takes place in the breeding grounds. But that is where it counts,” Hoyt said.

On Jan. 9, DU reported that CRP land is being lost to the plow at an extremely alarming rate while the farm bill (which dictates CRP) is still in limbo.

“New federal figures show almost 420,000 acres of North Dakota CRP were converted to cropland in 2007. That’s more than 12 percent of all CRP acres in the state,” DU officials said.

“If this trend holds for CRP contracts across the country, we won’t have many acres of CRP left in a few years and wildlife populations will suffer serious declines,” said Scott McLeod, Farm Bill specialist with DU’s Great Plains Regional Office.

US Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency statistics compiled by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department shows 16 North Dakota counties have CRP losses greater than 15 percent. Stutsman County had the highest loss with 65.3 square miles.

“We expected extensive losses, but this is about double what FSA originally indicated would be lost this year,” McLeod said.

DU officials said, “With today’s high commodity prices and focus on crop-based biofuels, Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups have been concerned that restored wildlife habitat would go back into crop production when CRP contracts expired in 2007. CRP offers producers payments through 10 to 15 year contracts to convert highly erodible cropland to grass.

“The rental rates paid for enrolling in CRP simply do not compete with what producers can get today by renting out the land for cropping or by farming it themselves,” McLeod said.

In DU’s report, McLeod said the number of CRP acres going back into crop production further emphasizes the need for a strong Sodsaver in the 2007 Farm Bill.

“The loss of CRP is certainly a severe blow to waterfowl and other grassland-dependent wildlife, but native prairie cannot be replaced,” he said.

“Native prairie and wetland complexes are critical habitats for nesting waterfowl and ranchers alike.”

We are at an extremely critical juncture for waterfowl now and you can help by contacting your Senators and letting them know you want a strong Sodsaver provision in the farm bill.

Follow the link below to find out what you need to say and how to contact your senators.