Report links farm payments and grassland loss
BISMARCK, ND, Sept. 18, 2007 – U.S. taxpayers are paying for the destruction of native prairie grasslands. A Government Accountability Office report released Tuesday links farm program payments to the loss of prairie grasslands.
“The report further confirms our findings that native prairie destruction is rapidly increasing,” said DU Executive Vice President Don Young. “Unfortunately, taxpayer funded farm program payments are fueling this ecological disaster.”
Ducks Unlimited says the report justifies the need for the U.S. Senate to include a strong Sodsaver provision in the next farm bill to slow grassland loss.
DU supports a Sodsaver provision in the new farm bill. It would remove all federal financial support on any land that doesn’t have a cropping history. Farmers could still put the land into production but at their own risk.
Loss rates of grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region are about four times the rate of conversion of rainforest in the Amazon region of South America. The area hatches more ducks than anywhere in the world.
The GAO prepared “Impact of USDA Payments and Sodbuster on Grassland Conversions to Cropland,” for Senate and House committees working on the new farm bill.
The report says farm program payments contribute to grassland loss, because “. . . they reduce producers’ financial risks and, in many cases, increase producers’ profits over maintaining grassland.”
The study found that farm program payments are twice as high per acre in South Dakota counties with high rates of native grassland conversion.
“These are drought-prone areas,” said Scott Stephens, DU’s director of conservation planning for the Great Plains Regional Office. “Crop failures are the norm rather than the exception. That grass is much more valuable for ranchers, wildlife and protecting soil and water quality.
“DU’s farm bill slogan is ‘Farm the best, conserve the rest.’ Price supports and crop insurance are necessary on high quality croplands,” Stephens said. “However, most of the native grasslands left would make poor cropland. It makes no sense – and the report agrees – for taxpayers to fund growing crops on these lands.”
DU research identified the loss of native prairie grasslands as a critical issue affecting waterfowl and other wildlife.
Young says there’s a clear need for the Sodsaver provision to protect the remaining native prairie in the Prairie Pothole Region.
“This study claims that present grassland protection programs aren’t working,” Young said.
DU President Bruce Lewis says hunters and others who care about the outdoors should push for a conservation-friendly farm bill.
“We are asking everyone to contact their senators, and ask that a strong Sodsaver provision be included in the new farm bill,” Lewis said.
With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.
MEDIA STORY RESEARCH ALERT:
For more information contact:
Becky Jones Mahlum
DU Manager of Communications
Great Plains Regional Office
DU Communications Biologist
Great Plains Regional Office
For a copy of the GAO report, click here, or log on to: www.ducks.org/GAOconversionreportSept07