Ronny Graham has been a member of DU for more than 30 years, serving on various committees including the Conservation Programs Committee. He is also currently a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries commissioner. He spoke with Ducks Unlimited about the importance of the conservation programs in the Farm Bill
DU: Why is habitat conservation so important?
Ronny: Well, the truth of the matter is, without habitat you don't have any wildlife. They have to have certain things to exist. One example is a habitat I hunted when I was growing up—my father and I went quail hunting on it together and I hunted on it until I was about 30 years old in Louisiana. Quail hunting was a big, big sport in Louisiana at that time. We had quail all over the state. As farming practices changed, the habitat changed; we don't have quail anymore to speak of. It's nonexistent compared to what it used to be, and that's a habitat situation. We, as people, can provide for ourselves, but wildlife is dependent upon us to be good stewards of the environment.
DU: You're a landowner with land enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Wetlands Reserve Program. What made you decide to enroll that land?
Ronny: My brother and my partners and I hunted all of our lives and bounced around to different spots. This property came up and we were already hunting down there, so we decided to buy it. Shortly thereafter, the WRP was kicking off and we heard about it. The land we bought was a cattle ranch with nothing but pasture on it. We were able to take it and start enhancing it to make it a really nice wintering ground for ducks. It's a changed environment.
The WRP has been a great thing for wildlife throughout the United States, especially through the Mississippi Alluvial Valley
and all the way to Canada. In 1990, we had a three-duck limit and a 30-day season. Right after that, there were millions of acres of CRP property put into play in the Dakotas, Nebraska and the prairies. After two years of that, the duck season bounced back.
DU: The Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, so new lands can't be enrolled in CRP and WRP. What does that mean for farmers, ranchers and conservationists?
Ronny: If they don't continue to support the CRP properties up to the breeding grounds, we're going to be looking at a three-duck limit and a 30-day season before too long. We'll be back to where we were before we had the programs. We have to have grasslands for the ducks to hatch; we've got to have the habitat for them. Ducks Unlimited has done a good job of educating our legislators that the Farm Bill is an important thing for everybody. It's not about duck hunting, necessarily—it's about the environment and taking care of all of the species that makes CRP important. Everybody ought to be pulling together to get something done to take care of all of these species of wildlife.
DU: In February, you were in Washington, D.C., to receive a Joint Venture Conservation Champion Award and were able to talk to Louisiana legislators. What did you tell them?
Ronny: I talked to our legislators about the importance of the joint venture and CRP. Rep. Rodney Alexander and Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter were all very knowledgeable about what was going on. In Louisiana, duck hunting is good for the economy, good for business. We've had a big increase in hunters in Louisiana the last couple of years, which is a good thing. Duck hunting, hunting and fishing is a good thing for the economy.
The Farm Bill has got to be passed, and will be passed, and it needs to have the CRP enacted to continue the program. We have lost millions of acres of habitat and we need to continue to keep restoration going to keep wildlife habitat together. Right now, commodity prices are high and you're getting a lot of pressure to break up the prairie to plant, but we need to keep doing good work for ducks and duck habitat. That's why the conservation programs are so important.