The 1985 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spring surveys found poor habitat conditions and low waterfowl populations. Mallards, pintails and blue-winged teal in particular were at or near their lowest population levels in the 30-year history of the survey. Waterfowl experts from the United States, Canada and Mexico began working on a biological blueprint, called the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, to bring back waterfowl populations to historic levels.
Meanwhile, 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 to 15 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.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) was established in the 1985 Farm Bill and has been reauthorized in every farm bill since. 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.
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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. A 2013 South Dakota State University study found that more than 1.3 million acres of grassland was converted to cropland across the Northern Great Plains from 2006 to 2011. In the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region (PPR; which includes portions of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota), more than two thirds of the original 90 million acres of native grassland has been converted to other land uses. CRP acres have 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 sustainable wildlife and public benefits.
CRP is a proven, results-oriented conservation program that has accomplished a variety of positive outcomes for wildlife habitat, air and water quality and reduced soil erosion. Research has shown that putting land into CRP has resulted in measurable ecological and societal benefits across the country, including:
- CRP was responsible for 25.7 million additional ducks produced in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region during 1992-2003. Waterfowl hunting is a multi-billion dollar annual activity across the country.
- Since 1986, CRP has reduced more than 8 billion tons of soil erosion – the equivalent of approximately 267 million large dump truck loads of dirt.
- In 2010, CRP grass waterways and riparian buffers helped filter 365 million pounds of nitrogen and 72 million pounds of phosphorus from entering our nation's lakes, rivers and streams.
- In 2010, CRP helped capture and store 52 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
- CRP lands also reduce downstream flooding by absorbing and slowly releasing storm water.
The positive results 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 CRP habitat, staving off declines that could lead to increased listings of threatened and endangered species.
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 sportsmen and women.
Given all of the benefits of CRP to farmers, ranchers, 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 over the past 25 years.
For more information on CRP, click here
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A Changing Landscape & DU's Future Recommendations for CRP
Unfortunately, during the past 5 years, more than 30 percent of the CRP lands (peak of 8.3 million acres enrolled in 2007 compared to 5.7 million acres in 2013) have expired across the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region and these downward trends are expected to continue for the next several years.
Despite record high commodity prices, landowner interest in CRP still remains very strong. In fact, only 57 percent of North Dakota landowners interested in enrolling in CRP were successful during the last general sign-up and these enrollment success rates are consistent across the PPR. As part of the 2013 Farm Bill discussions, Congress has proposed major cuts to future CRP funding and national enrollment caps. Faced with these challenges, conservation partners must work more effectively to strategically target limited resources and maximize return on investment. DU has offered the following recommendations to Congress for CRP in the next Farm Bill:
- CRP should continue to be USDA's flagship conservation program and remain well-funded to ensure this conservation legacy program remains successful for another 25 years.
- Legislators should avoid a "one size fits all" approach and tailor the program to best meet wildlife resource and producers' needs in a given region.
- USDA should explore other new and innovative "working lands" approaches that work well for both farmers and wildlife. Examples of this could include pilot grazing programs in states where a grazing plan is compatible with livestock production and grassland-dependent wildlife.
- Congress should also support and continue to promote state-specific Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs (CREP) and Continuous CRP practices, like State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), as valuable tools to provide specific resource benefits in many regions of the country.
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For more information contact:
Dan Wrinn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-347-1530
Gary Taylor, email@example.com, 202-347-1530