DU and Partners Help Farmers Conserve Montana's Prairies

The high density of wetland depressions and associated grasslands found on Montana's Hi-Line provide vital breeding habitat for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife. The Hi-Line, which encompasses Montana's portion of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), has been experiencing native grassland loss at rates not seen since the Dust Bowl. To help reverse this trend, DU conservation specialist Brett Dorak recently began working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff to promote federal conservation programs such as Continuous CRP and State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), which are not as well known as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) among private landowners. Many of these programs come with extra payment incentives to help farmers protect native grassland. 

Recently, high wheat prices and declining conservation payments have encouraged farmers to remove their land from CRP and put them back into row crop production. Montana's CRP enrollment across the PPR has declined by roughly 60 percent, from a peak of almost 2.4 million acres in 2007 to fewer than 1.4 million acres today. 

In 2013, Montana was allocated approximately 7,000 acres for the SAFE Prairie Pothole–Upland Game Bird Enhancement program. Thanks to DU, NRCS and FSA staff, all of those acres were successfully enrolled in this program. The grassland protected by these programs will provide crucial habitat for waterfowl and upland birds in Montana's portion of the PPR.

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