Dennis Anderson: Dakota grasslands hang in balance

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2012 - 7:04 AM

 A lot in the Dakotas rides on, of all things, a transportation bill President Obama must sign by the end of the month.

hide

Plowing up grasslands in the Dakotas and replacing them with crops have ramifications for soil quality and many species of wildlife, including songbirds, ducks and pheasants.

Photo: ., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

You needn't pay very close attention nowadays to share the notion that, rather than pressing ahead determinedly toward some good end, following a plan, we, as a people, lurch instead from crisis to crisis, unsure exactly where we're headed, and less so where we'll end up.

This is particularly true in matters of the environment, not least the transformation, ongoing, to marginal croplands of the nation's last best grasslands and the Dakota ecosystems they support, the alterations enriching a relative few at great public expense, and cost.

An attempt now to still that process and preserve some of these irreplaceable lands, and with them critical components of the nation's natural heritage, is caught up in a congressional conference committee whose main charge -- go figure -- is deciding how much will be spent on roads and bridges.

At issue are two versions of a federal transportation bill, one passed by the House, the other by the Senate, the latter better by half, measured by what good it could do not only for yellow warblers, least flycatchers, eastern phoebes, ducks, pheasants and other prairie wildlife, but also for the health and long-term stability of the Dakotas -- held together as they traditionally have been by vast expanses of big bluestem, Indian grass, western wheatgrass and sideoats grama, among other grasses and grass-like plants.

Some background:

The Land and Water Conservations Fund (LWCF) was created by Congress in 1965. Its intention was to employ a portion of revenues gained from the sale of offshore oil and gas leases to pay for natural resource conservation and outdoor recreation nationwide, including state, local and national parks and trails.

Revenues diverted to the LWCF for these projects were supposed to total $900 million annually. But that has rarely happened. Instead, Congress has leeched most of the cash each year for other purposes. Since 1965, some $17 billion has gone missing.

Now a conversion of interests hopes the Senate's transportation bill triumphs over the House's in key ways as the conference committee assigned to resolve differences between the two races to finish its work. A final bill must pass both chambers and be signed by President Obama by the end of the month, when authorization under the current transportation law runs out.

Unmentioned in the House bill is the LWCF. But the Senate funds it at $700 million in each of the next two years, with the money destined for conservation projects nationwide. Among them, the Obama administration has assured, will be the Dakota Grasslands Project, whose goal is to preserve, primarily through conservation easements gained from willing landowners (of whom there are hundreds waiting), 240,000 acres of wetlands and 1.7 million acres of grasslands.

Everyone in the conservation community supports the plan, chief among them Ducks Unlimited, which has committed $50 million over the next 10 years to the grasslands project, provided reasonable allocations from the LWCF are made. Also lining up to help, cash in hand, are The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever and other groups.

But much bigger forces -- the massive construction-industry lobby and election year politics, to name two -- are in play as a final bill is shaped that could spend more than $50 billion a year.

Including the LWCF portion in any final measure should be a no-brainer. The money is already paid into the fund by oil and gas leases, and the needs are many, not least reclamation of the Gulf Coast after the BP spill, which also is included, via a separate component, in the Senate bill.

It's possible something good might happen soon. Or not: House negotiators might dig in their heels on these and other conservation and environment portions of the two bills, and no bill will be agreed upon, with the current law extended instead.

Should that occur, bigger crises surely await, the even more costly future reclamation of these lost Dakota prairies among them.

Dennis Anderson • danderson@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 17 FINAL
New England 9
Cleveland 10 FINAL
Baltimore 20
Dallas 44 FINAL
Washington 17
Indianapolis 27 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Jacksonville 17 FINAL
Houston 23
San Diego 7 FINAL
Kansas City 19
NY Jets 37 FINAL
Miami 24
Chicago 9 FINAL
Minnesota 13
Philadelphia 34 FINAL
NY Giants 26
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Tampa Bay 20
Carolina 34 FINAL
Atlanta 3
Detroit 20 FINAL
Green Bay 30
Oakland 14 FINAL
Denver 47
Arizona 17 FINAL
San Francisco 20
St. Louis 6 FINAL
Seattle 20
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Pittsburgh 27
Arizona 1/3/15 3:35 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 1/3/15 7:15 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 103 FINAL
Cleveland 80
Houston 106 FINAL
San Antonio 110
Oklahoma City 107 FINAL
Dallas 112
New York 79 FINAL
Portland 101
Toronto 116 FINAL
Denver 102
Phoenix 116 FINAL
LA Lakers 107
Toronto 4 FINAL
Florida 6
Vancouver 1 FINAL(OT)
Anaheim 2
Tulane 57 FINAL
St Johns 82
Central Conn St 48 FINAL
Connecticut 81
Iona 81 FINAL
Drexel 62
Concordia (MI) 42 FINAL
Eastern Mich 100
Harvard 46 FINAL
Arizona State 56
Longwood 64 FINAL
Ball State 69
Sacred Heart 76 FINAL
Brown 79
Colgate 64 FINAL
Columbia 69
MD-Eastern Shore 78 FINAL
Duquesne 69
UNC Greensboro 50 FINAL
East Carolina 71
Marist 64 FINAL
Elon 69
NJIT 71 FINAL
Lafayette 76
Cincinnati Christian 58 FINAL
Liberty 78
Morgan State 53 FINAL
Marquette 81
Campbell 56 FINAL
Samford 65
Bucknell 71 FINAL
Siena 73
Long Beach State 67 FINAL
Syracuse 85
Coppin State 80 FINAL
Evansville 85
UMKC 73 FINAL
Indiana State 70
Hofstra 88 FINAL
Long Island 62
Coast Guard 48 FINAL
Army 93
Thomas (GA) 48 FINAL
High Point 85
Texas Southern 58 FINAL
Kansas State 56
Rutgers 59 FINAL
Monmouth 58
NC Wesleyan 54 FINAL
NC A&T 58
South Dakota St 63 FINAL
Northern Iowa 74
Central Penn College 69 FINAL
Radford 119
Bowling Green 79 FINAL
South Florida 70
Harris-Stowe 66 FINAL
SE Missouri St 94
Robert Morris-IL 56 FINAL
SIU Edwardsville 104
Northland College 59 FINAL
North Dakota St 83
Milwaukee 60 FINAL
South Dakota 84
Northwestern St 92 FINAL
Arkansas 100
Saint Peters 59 FINAL
Cornell 52
St Katherine 62 FINAL
Fresno State 93
Haskell 42 FINAL
Oral Roberts 94
Wake Forest 65 FINAL
Richmond 63
Fla Gulf Coast 57 FINAL
Xavier 71
SD Christian 45 FINAL
Northern Ariz 71
Judson 46 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 80
Ill-Chicago 60 FINAL
Bradley 68
Loyola-Maryland 61 FINAL
Fairfield 59
Miss Valley St 53 FINAL
Houston 80
Lehigh 58 FINAL
UMBC 55
Delaware State 56 FINAL
Temple 66
Belmont 56 FINAL
Butler 67
Howard 59 FINAL
Fordham 74
NW Christian 67 FINAL
Nevada 81
UC Davis 83 FINAL
Washington St 90
Abilene Christian 81 FINAL
Grand Canyon 83
UCLA 50 FINAL
Alabama 56
Stony Brook 62 FINAL
Washington 57
Buffalo 56 FINAL
Wisconsin 68
CS-Bakersfield 55 FINAL
California 52
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 42 FINAL
(24) USC 45
Texas A&M 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
Toledo 1/4/15 8:00 PM
Arkansas State
Drexel 71 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 54
Holy Cross 63 FINAL
Norfolk State 62
East Carolina 62 FINAL
South Florida 69
(10) Oregon State 63 FINAL
(8) Tennessee 74
Providence 51 FINAL
Boston College 79
Florida A&M 47 FINAL
Miami-Florida 83
Oakland 69 FINAL
Central Michigan 74
Chattanooga 59 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 49
Fairfield 59 FINAL
La Salle 73
St Francis-PA 59 FINAL
Pittsburgh 97
Milwaukee 72 FINAL
IUPU-Ft Wayne 78
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Longwood 63
New Hampshire 58 FINAL
Manhattan 54
Bucknell 68 FINAL
Binghamton 57
Northeastern 70 FINAL
Albany 67
George Mason 70 FINAL
Towson 72
Richmond 59 FINAL
William & Mary 56
Tulane 60 FINAL
Cincinnati 50
North Florida 51 FINAL
Florida 63
(14) Georgia 51 FINAL
Seton Hall 70
Tennessee St 75 FINAL
(12) Kentucky 87
American Univ 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 77
Massachusetts 78 FINAL
Boston U 57
Quinnipiac 69 FINAL
Saint Josephs 67
Lafayette 49 FINAL
Saint Peters 34
Northwestern 61 FINAL
(20) Michigan State 57
Duquesne 82 FINAL
Lehigh 75
George Washington 72 FINAL
Loyola-Maryland 49
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Indiana 51
(24) Green Bay 66 FINAL
Dayton 72
Western Mich 55 FINAL
Stony Brook 59
Davidson 67 FINAL
Virginia 57
UNC Greensboro 61 FINAL
LSU 82
Denver 63 FINAL
North Texas 55
VA Commonwealth 63 FINAL
Coppin State 52
Huston-Tillotson 36 FINAL
Houston Baptist 86
Lamar 63 FINAL
Rice 97
Miss Valley St 40 FINAL
Alabama 71
Saint Louis 63 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 49
Middle Tennessee 98 FINAL
Tenn Tech 76
Penn State 52 FINAL
(23) Iowa 77
Purdue 62 FINAL
Illinois 55
DePaul 99 FINAL
Illinois State 62
Sam Houston St 46 FINAL
Wichita State 70
South Dakota 76 FINAL
TX-San Antonio 69
(4) Notre Dame 82 FINAL
UCLA 67
Coll of Charleston 51 FINAL
SC State 60
Alcorn State 53 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 63
Dartmouth 76 FINAL
Niagara 70
Colgate 68 FINAL
Siena 80
Michigan 53 FINAL
Wisconsin 63
Fla Gulf Coast 73 FINAL
CS-Northridge 64
Yale 51 FINAL
(25) Arizona State 69
UC Santa Barbara 34 FINAL
(16) Stanford 90
Long Island 63 FINAL
Long Beach St 71
Jackson State 56 FINAL
Louisiana 65
Eureka 50 FINAL
Western Ill 91
Cornell 59 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 76
Temple 58 FINAL
Memphis 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close