National trend for habitat loss concerning
BISMARCK, ND, January 4, 2008 – The conservation organization Ducks Unlimited says it’s as if someone plowed up a three-mile swath of wildlife habitat across North Dakota, from its southern border to Canada. That’s how many Conservation Reserve Program grassland acres were lost in just this one state this past fall.
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.
“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.
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.
The US Fish and Wildlife Services credits CRP with producing more than 2 million ducks a year. This steady stream of lost habitat will mean significantly lower production of ducks that migrate through or winter in all of the contiguous 48 states and provide and an important part of the hunters’ bags in those states.
DU’s director of conservation programs in the Prairie Pothole Region says conservation-minded people are concerned the country’s new energy policy will wipe out billions of federal dollars invested in natural resources. “Conservation is in for a long swim against a strong current when trying to fight the tide of land rolling out of CRP,” Jim Ringelman said.
McLeod says 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.”
CRP encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to grass. Annual rental payments based on the agriculture rental value of the land are paid to the landowner under 10 to 15 year contracts.
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.
For more information on the Conservation Reserve Program and Ducks Unlimited’s Farm Bill priorities, please see:
Becky Jones Mahlum