In 1985, spring surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed waterfowl breeding populations at 25.6 million ducks and predicted a fall flight of 54.5 million. Mallards, pintails and blue-winged teal in particular were in trouble, with populations at or near their lowest in the 30-year history of the surveys.
Waterfowl experts from the United States, Canada and Mexico began working on a biological blueprint to bring back the ducks. That effort, which became the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, set as its goal a spring breeding population of 62 million ducks and a fall flight of 100 million. At the same time, Congress was working on another issue - the 1985 Farm Bill and a new provision called the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The soil conservation strategy of CRP involved paying farmers to retire marginal croplands from production for 10 years. Its political support came from its potential to reduce expensive commodity surpluses. At the same time, CRP was about to create millions of acres of prime upland cover that would help protect nests from predators and dramatically increase nesting success.
CRP was established in the 1985 Farm Bill and reauthorized in the 1990 and 1996 Farm Bill. The program encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to resource-conserving vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filterstrips or riparian buffers. The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) makes annual rental payments based on the agriculture rental value of the land, and it provides cost-share assistance for up to 50 percent of the participant’s costs in establishing approved conservation practices. Participants compete nationally to enroll in CRP contracts and receive an annual rental payment for 10 to 15 years. For more information on CRP, click here.
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Farm Bill 2002 and CRP
No program in history has done more for landscape-level conservation of soil, water and wildlife habitat on farmland while offering producers a significant and stable source of income than CRP.
CRP has measurably improved wildlife habitats and populations. In the United States, Ducks Unlimited worked exceptionally hard with the Bush Administration and Congress to reauthorize additional acreage for CRP in the 2002 Farm Bill. Due to our combined efforts, CRP was increased from a national acreage cap of 36.4 to 39.2 million acres with the clear implication that the additional 2.8 million additional acres of CRP contracts should be available to producers.
DU is confident the 39.2 million acres will be reached with the next sign-up, based on CRP’s popularity with landowners, as evidenced by the demand for land enrollment (acres bid) often exceeding availability by a 3 to 1 ratio. This increase in acres is a huge step in the right direction toward securing and restoring additional prime acreage for the benefit of wetlands and waterfowl. DU is excited about this development and will continue to work with our partners to maintain this growth well into the future.
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CRP not only reduces erosion, but also provides habitat for many species of wildlife across the country. It has been especially important where cropland had replaced grassland on marginal soils.
Across the plains states of the central United States, grassland loss continues at alarming rates. In the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region (which includes portions of Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming), 56 million acres (62 percent) of the original 90 million acres of native grassland has been converted to other land uses. The 4.7 million acres of CRP within this landscape has helped to recapture the wildlife, soil and water quality values of grassland on this landscape, but more grassland restoration through CRP is needed to achieve a level of sustainability of these public benefits.
CRP is a proven, results-oriented conservation program that has accomplished a variety of positive outcomes for wildlife habitat. Research has proven that putting land in to CRP has resulted in measurable benefits to wildlife populations in many areas of the country. Here are a few examples of this type of research:
- During 1992-1997, nest success of five common duck species were 46 percent higher with CRP on the landscape in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana compared to a simulated scenario where existing CRP was replaced with cropland (Reynolds et al. 2001). This study concluded that an additional 12.4 million recruits were added to the waterfowl fall flight as a result of CRP from 1992-1997.
- During 1990-1994, nest success of female pheasants in north central Iowa was 40 percent higher in large blocks of CRP than in smaller fragmented nesting cover types like roadsides and fence lines (Clark and Bogenschutz 1999). When CRP acreage was enrolled in large fields, pheasant populations were 53 percent greater compared to no CRP (Clark and Bogenschutz 2001).
- Based on densities of 12 grassland songbird species in CRP fields compared to adjacent croplands, Johnson and Igl (1995) predicted that populations of at least five of these species would decline statewide in North Dakota by 17 percent or more if CRP was greatly reduced on the state’s landscape.
These studies document positive impacts of CRP on wildlife populations. After precipitation returned to the prairies in 1993, CRP proved to be a major contributor to the rebounds of many species of waterfowl. This impact of CRP on waterfowl populations is further substantiated by comparisons with the Canadian prairies where waterfowl nest success and population growth remains low and CRP and other conservation cover programs are lacking. CRP has resulted in a boom to pheasant and white-tailed deer populations throughout the plains states and the Midwest. Non-game grassland birds, one of the fastest declining groups of birds in the country, have also responded positively to the habitat afforded by CRP, staving off declines that could lead to increased listings of threatened and endangered species.
CRP has helped many farmers diversify their income sources through incorporating grass agriculture and recreational based businesses into their operations. Some have decided to use CRP to help make the transition from cropping to ranching. Hundreds of farmers in the Dakotas and Iowa have restored formerly drained wetlands within their CRP tracts through CP-23, a funding option of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) designed to restore previously drained wetlands. Many others are using available incentive programs to install grazing systems on expiring CRP. Others are using CRP payments to stabilize their financial situation and to pay off debt.
As of May 2004, portions of nearly 400,000 farms have enrolled in CRP across the nation. CRP remains very popular in prairie states like Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Minnesota, where portions of over 89,000 farms have enrolled in CRP. During the last general signup (Signup 26) the average ratio of three applicants into CRP for every one accepted was even higher in several Prairie Pothole states. In Montana only 24 percent of 2,293 offers were accepted, in North Dakota only 9 percent of 3,003 offers were accepted, and in South Dakota only 15 percent of 2,002 offers were accepted. Clearly CRP remains a very popular program among agricultural operators.
U.S. taxpayers are benefiting from cleaner air and improved water quality, because CRP removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reduces soil erosion and nutrient runoff into our waterways. Recovering wildlife populations are enjoyed by sportsmen and wildlife watchers across the nation generating millions of dollars and jobs for rural economies. Additionally, increasing wildlife populations are helping to diversify income sources for farmers who are responding to strong demand for fee hunting opportunities by operating hunting-related businesses. Many producers also have opened up the land they have enrolled in CRP to public access for hunting and fishing, thus improving the relationship between landowners, state fish and wildlife agencies and the hunting and fishing public.
There is a misconception that one impact of CRP has been the population decline of rural America, due to the land being taken out of production. However, it is clear that this is simply not the case. Examination of the data shows that rural population decline and the decline in the number of farms across the plains started decades before CRP ever entered the picture. In the case of North Dakota (see figure above) the decline in farm numbers started in the 1930s and has actually slowed since the introduction of CRP in 1986. Technological developments within the agricultural industry have led to a reduction in the minimum workforce necessary for farm productivity. These developments are what is most responsible for the population decline of rural America; as workers were replaced by tractors and combines, they left the farms for the cities in search of employment. CRP actually puts rural America in a position to regain some of its population by restoring quality natural landscapes around which new and diversified service sector and small business jobs can be built.
CRP has provided documented wildlife benefits to waterfowl, upland game birds, grassland songbirds and many other species of grassland wildlife. The map below illustrates how CRP, in the Prairie Pothole Region, has national importance by helping to provide waterfowl to almost every state (map below shows the location of ducks banded in the PPR and how they migrate).
In 2007, over 16 million acres of CRP contracts expire, with an additional 6 million acres expiring the following year. CRP should continue as USDA’s flagship conservation program, and be reauthorized with a focus on enhancing and expanding the existing CRP “wildlife legacy.” Given all of the benefits of CRP to producers, the environment and the American public, we cannot afford the loss of CRP authorization in the next Farm Bill. Such a loss would negate many of the documented wildlife and other environmental benefits that resulted from CRP over the past 20 years.
For more information on CRP, click here.
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DU's Recommendations for the Future of CRP
- The CP-23 wetland restoration practice, vital to restoring both the small wetlands and adjacent grasslands necessary for waterfowl, pheasants and other wildlife, has enrolled 1.5 million acres. However, CP-23 has been removed as a general signup option and eligibility was restricted to 100-year floodplains. Additional limitations were placed on associated upland enrollment. Ducks Unlimited recommends that CP-23 requirements be restored allowing enrollment of depressional wetlands outside of 100-year floodplains with sufficient associated uplands. This will maximize wildlife production from CP-23 lands and assist farmers and landowners with areas that are problematic for farming operations.
- Full technical assistance (TA) should be made available for program implementation that does not involve either acreage reductions or cuts to other important conservation programs. DU supports language in the FY 2005 Senate budget resolution calling for these funds to be made available through the Commodity Credit Corporation. During the 26th general CRP signup, it was apparent that additional resources should be made available to NRCS, FSA and private sector organizations, to assist applicants during the signup process.
- CRP management is an important tool to maintain and enhance CRP wildlife productivity throughout the contract period. Provisions for managed haying and grazing, mid-contract management and the setting of primary nesting/broodrearing seasons should allow for regional variations and be driven by a goal of protecting and enhancing resource benefits. In some regions of the country, more frequent disturbance of CRP may be necessary (e.g. every two or three years in much of the South and East), while over much of the grasslands regions of the northern and southern plains, management may only be needed once or twice during a 10-year contract. DU recognizes that much of the CRP “wildlife legacy” can be directly attributed to large blocks of grassland in the upper Midwest, but note that additional efforts are necessary to ensure that this wildlife legacy is shared nationwide, especially in the southeastern section of the country where cover establishment and management on CRP lands has not achieved the wildlife benefits expected.
- DU supports continued use of CREP and CCRP programs as valuable tools to provide resource benefits in many areas of the country.
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For more information contact:
Dan Wrinn, email@example.com, 202-347-1530
Gary Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-347-1530