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Habitat losses mount in Prairie Pothole Region

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With millions of acres of marginal cropland being removed from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to get down the maximum acreage cap set by the 2008 Farm Bill, the outlook for ducks and landowners is unclear. More than 1.3 million acres of CRP land has left the program in the Prairie Pothole Region alone, an area that once added more than 2.2 million ducks to the fall migration every year from CRP lands alone.

"The cumulative impacts of grassland loss in the Prairie Pothole Region, both CRP and native prairie, at this magnitude, will eventually have significant impacts on waterfowl populations and the number of ducks that hunters see in their decoy spreads," said Scott McLeod, DU Great Plains Government Affairs Representative. "In 2012 alone, North Dakota will lose more than 846,000 acres of CRP."

Nationwide, some 2.7 million acres of CRP, freed from contracts, are already being converted to farmland. Enough acres exited the program this year to fall below the nationwide enrollment cap, which was reduced from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres in the 2008 Farm Bill.

To get below 32 million acres by October 1, 2010, as mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill, USDA offered three or five year contract extensions and 70 percent of the producers accepted. "However, the result was still a significant loss of CRP nationwide and in the Dakotas and Montana," said McLeod.

The USDA is currently in the process of conducting a CRP Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which is expected to be completed sometime during the fall of 2010. A general CRP sign-up cannot be held until the impact statement is completed.


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