Monday, July 25, 2011

CRP Crisis

Lots of summer rain and warm, sunny days are a two-pronged attack on my leisure time. For me, a good summer is when I don’t mow my yard more than once a week. Unfortunately, I don’t have a direct line to Mother Nature so I’ve been stuck with mowing the yard once a week. I like my yard and I like it when it is trimmed and mowed but I hate the work. Maybe if I spent more time working on my book I could get a fantastic contract and afford to hire someone to mow it every week. Since that isn’t going to happen except in my daydreams I’ll just stick with reality and brave the weather--sunshine.

One of the rewards of mowing a yard is that I can mull over something that needs attention. A very serious problem that has had my attention for quite some time is nowhere near being resolved and that is the CRP Land crisis.

Twenty-five years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program was signed into law. The idea was to reduce grain surpluses thereby jumpstarting commodity prices while at the same time decreasing erosion on the marginal tilled soils. Everything worked great and one of the beneficiaries of this program was wildlife. Ground nesting upland birds had a place to build a nest and brood their chicks. Duck hunters reaped a bonanza (that they are still reaping today) because ducks will often fly more than a mile from water to build a nest and hatch their brood. With a wet cycle in the northern plains the waterfowl had it made with ample water, good, high grass in which to raise their young, protected from most predators.

We have all benefited from the CRP program. By all I mean ALL. Even if a person never sets foot in the hunting field or picks up a binocular to go bird watching they aren’t choking on dust storms from those marginal fields and the water held back by the root systems of CRP land doesn’t flow into those low spots to join other water to erode the croplands.

What’s the worry? There are millions of acres in the program--right?

Sort of right because millions of those acres are scheduled to begin coming out of the reserve program over the next few years and at the present rate within twenty years the total amount of land in the CRP will be reduced to a very small fraction of its present amount. Here, in North Dakota, wildlife managers are predicting that by 2019 there will be only about 200,000 acres in CRP. That is down from a high of 3-million acres in 2007.

This is an important issue and it is one that is going to impact a lot more people than just those of us who hunt, but it also appears that the people who are going to step forward (once again) and seize the reins will be America’s hunters. Landowners claim that keeping the lands out of crop production is cutting into their ability to realize a profit from farming and when we translate that into how we keep those lands in the CRP the solution is “more money paid out.” Unfortunately we can no longer rely on the government to completely fund the program. I believe that solving the CRP crisis is going to require a stamp program not unlike the Waterfowl stamp. I know it is another hit on our pockets but better a hit than a total collapse of CRP and the corresponding loss of wildlife (game and nongame).