Here are a couple of photos that show the devastation of the flooding up north, specifically the swinging bridge at Jay Cooke State Park, which has been evacuated.
The photo immediately below I took on a fall day a couple of years ago, while standing downstream of the bridge and while wading about knee-deep in the St. Louis River.
The second photo below is an aerial shot taken Thursday by Star Tribune photographer Brian Peterson.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has issued a report saying that Monsanto's new drought-tolerant corn, DroughtGard, might not yield farmers the gains they hope for in dry years.
Conservationists have watched with deep concern as genetically modified crops such as DroughtGard are introduced, fearing — rightly, as it turns out — that fragile grasslands in the central and western Dakotas will continue to be plowed up and planted.
Historically, these lands have never been financially feasible to farm, in part due to a lack of rainfall in the area. Cattle grazing instead has been their primary purpose — thus preserving the same grasslands that ducks, pheasants, songbirds and other wildlife have utilized since time immemorial.
But high commodity prices and a federal farm bill that to date has virtually guaranteed farmers a return on their investments in breaking new ground — regardless of the ultimate yield — have driven farmers to open up new lands to agriculture.
Now the UCS has issued a report saying that improved breeding of seed types and better farming practices are better alternatives to improving total farm yields than projected developments in engineered crop genetics.
“Farmers are always looking to reduce losses from drought, but the biotechnology industry has made little real-world progress on this problem,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist with UCS’s Food & Environment Program and author of the report. “Despite many years of research and millions of dollars in development costs, DroughtGard doesn’t outperform the non-engineered alternatives.
“If we were to conduct an apples-to-apples comparison today, we’d find that breeding and improved farming practices have increased drought tolerance in corn about two to three times faster than DroughtGard,” said Gurian-Sherman. “Classical and newer forms of breeding are also far cheaper.”
Arguably, the UCS has a dog in this fight, in that public research dollars it seeks in the new Farm Bill likely would trickle down to some of its members.
Photo by Dennis Anderson Star Tribune
Pheasants and pheasant hunters take note:
North Dakota's net loss of about 650,000 Conservation Reserve Program acres heads an all-star list of states with significant net losses of federal set-aside lands, following the latest program sign-up offered by the USDA.
Next is Montana, with 435,335 net acres lost, followed by Minnesota, with a net loss of 190,231 acres.
Minnesota lost about 66 percent of all CRP acres whose contracts expired.
The bailout from the nation's top wildlife and soil conservation program was also in high gear in South Dakota, where 169,284 program acres were lost.
High crop prices, corn particularly, are causing farmers to leave conservation programs and put their lands under the plow instead.
Grasslands throughout the Dakotas are also falling victim to high commodity prices, as new, genetically modified corn strains are now able to be planted in areas of little rainfall.
To see a spreadsheet showing details of the latest CRP signup, including number of acres offered and accepted, and net losses, state by state, click here.
Notice that more and more ducks seem to be migrating through Minnesota after the season has closed?
Perhaps your impressions are correct, according to a new study by Delta Waterfowl that says many waterfowl are being taken by hunters significantly later in the year than in previous decades.
The Delta Duck Migration Study was written by Delta science director Dr. Frank Rohwer, Louisiana State University graduate student Bruce Davis and Delta's senior director of U.S. policy John Devney.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has collected comprehensive harvest data from hunters since 1961, and the study examined data from its annual Parts Collection Survey.
"With few exceptions, harvest dates for mallards throughout the mid-latitude and southern states have become consistently later," Rohwer said in a Delta press release. "Mallard harvest is on average ten days later in Arkansas, fifteen days later in California, sixteen days later in Illinois, and twelve days later in Virginia."
Here's more from the release announcing the study:
Most migrant duck species, including gadwall, ring-necked, pintails and green-winged teal, have significantly later harvest dates now than historically has been the case. Blue-winged/cinnamon teal and mottled ducks were the only species to run against the trend.
"Hunters have suspected this was happening, and for the first time, we've seen the data that confirms this on a big scale," says Rohwer. "As usual, hunters seem to know more than we give them credit for."
The report examined whether later hunting seasons were a simple explanation for later harvests. While it's true that most states have extended their seasons from the 60's, the report found this was not the 'sole driver' for shifts in harvest dates. For example, non-migrating mottled ducks in Texas and Louisiana are being harvested at about the same time as 50 years ago. But hunters in those states are harvesting mallards much later in the year, suggesting that Mallards – which are strictly migrants from the north - are arriving later.
So does a later harvest mean ducks are actually migrating later?
Dr. Rohwer says the best way to evaluate shifts in migrations would be a history of waterfowl counts throughout the flyways. Unfortunately, comprehensive fall migration surveys do not exist.
"The beauty of the Parts Collection Survey is that it has been conducted in the same manner since 1961 and records the date, location and species of duck killed. It provides a good general sense of when duck harvest is taking place, which we suspect is a reasonable surrogate for timing of migration."
A hot topic in southern duck blinds is whether changes in northern agriculture that provide additional food may be holding ducks longer in northern states. The theory goes that field-feeding ducks like mallards and pintails will stay longer; fatting up on left over corn and soy beans in higher latitudes.
If food was the driver of migration and harvest dates, says Dr. Rohwer, then gadwall and ring-necked ducks that never feed in fields should migrate and be harvested at the same time as in prior decades. The harvest data, however, shows that all four species show similar shifts in delayed harvest. The idea that northern agriculture is holding ducks back is 'unlikely', concludes the report.
The report also had a preliminary look at whether or not migration may be delayed because of the potential effects of climate change. While the report concluded it's 'plausible', the harvest data can neither prove nor disprove any connection between migration and climate change.
Waterfowl hunters are obviously interested in the timing of migrations, says Dr. Rohwer. The importance for the outdoor industry, tourism and waterfowl management make a compelling argument for more research into migration.
"Hunters, the outdoor industry and resource managers are not passive observers," says Dr. Rohwer. "They are expecting an answer to the deceptively simple question: Are ducks migrating later. They are holding policymakers and the scientific community accountable for an answer, as they surely should."
The Delta Migration Study is available in its entirety at on Delta Waterfowl's web site (www.deltawaterfowl.org/pressrelease/120529-MigrationStudy.pdf) or www.seasonsend.org.
My friend Dave Zentner of Duluth went prospecting in northern Wisconsin on Wednesday to see what he could see, in advance of spring steelhead fishing.
Here's his report:
"Saw two long strings of tundra swans in south Superior, headed, I think, toward Spirit Lake in St. Louis River. I’d guess their normal arrival time would be April 10-15, assuming they were tundras. Could have been trumpeters, but I doubt it.
"Lake Nebagamon is wide open, as are all small ponds. Usual ice out for them? I’d guess sometime after 15 April.
"Goldeneyes, mallards, scaup, wood ducks, ringneck and black ducks all were prevalent. I've also heard reports of green wings that are back. Often I don't start to see ringnecks until late April or early May. It has been common to have scaup hanging around the first two weekends of walleye season in the past. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see blue wings and shovelers!!
"Also saw lots of sparrows.
"Came home with three wood ticks.''