Smith: In face of widespread habitat loss, conservation fight continues

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 18, 2013 - 9:26 PM

Habitat is the big victim in the wetlands-grasslands war.

hide

Wetland drainage in North Dakota has accelerated, as this photo taken last fall indicates. Conservationists say there’s widespread loss of wildlife habitat occurring across the prairie pothole region.

Photo: Matt Olson, Pheasants Forever

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Optimism flickers among conservationists that the massive conversion of grasslands and wetlands to row crops in recent years — and the subsequent loss of wildlife habitat — might be slowed or stemmed by a Farm Bill now being considered in Congress.

Additionally, the first general sign-up in a year for the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners to idle sensitive lands, begins Monday, boosting conservationists’ hopes.

But the reality is this: Hunters and wildlife lovers in the Upper Midwest might never again see the abundance of habitat they witnessed in the past decade. And the future, even of wildlife-rich states such as South Dakota and North Dakota, looks increasingly grim.

South Dakota’s claim to be the “Pheasant Capital of the World” could ring hollow in the not-too-distant future.

“The long-term trends are very, very sobering,” said Dave Nomsen, Pheasant Forever’s vice president of governmental affairs, who has been intimately involved in the Farm Bill for decades. “We’re turning the eastern Dakotas into northern Iowa every day. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime.”

A downward spiral

A recent study on the state of the prairie pothole region concluded: “All scientific papers and data we reviewed indicate conversion of grasslands and drainage of wetlands will continue ...”

That same study noted that the acreage planted to soybeans since 1970 increased by 2,000 percent in North Dakota and by 1,600 percent in South Dakota.

Sky-high corn and soybean prices — though now tempered — and escalating land values are driving the conversion.

The loss of CRP acreage underscores the dwindling wildlife habitat. Soil erosion and water pollution also could rise with the loss of associated grassland buffers. Since 2007, South Dakota has lost more than a half-million acres — or 875 square miles — of CRP lands. Fewer than 1 million acres are currently enrolled, and more likely will be removed as those contracts expire.

Minnesota currently has about 1.4 million acres enrolled in CRP, a loss of 400,000 acres — or 625 square miles of grasslands — since 2007. (Some good news for pheasant hunters: CRP acreage within the state’s pheasant range has remained fairly constant at around 700,000 acres.) North Dakota has lost an incredible 1.6 million acres of CRP, or 2,500 square miles, since 2007.

“It’s a downward spiral right now,” Nomsen said.

Nationwide, about 27 million acres are enrolled in CRP, a reduction of some 10 million acres from the peak. And an additional 3.3 million acres are set to expire Oct. 1.

Some good news?

Nomsen is a glass-half-full guy. This week, a Senate committee OK’d a new five-year Farm Bill authorizing $56.8 billion for conservation programs over 10 years. Importantly, the bill includes a provision requiring farmers who buy crop insurance to also comply with conservation measures to protect highly erodible lands and sensitive wetlands.

“It’s not some new burden, it was in place before 1996,” Nomsen said. “If you want to qualify for federally subsidized crop insurance, you need to address conservation on your farm.”

But even if that provision is included in the new Farm Bill, versions in the Senate and House call for capping CRP at 24 million to 25 million acres.

“We’ll have to be as efficient as we can possibly be to get the best-of-the-best 25 million acres,” Nomsen said. That means better managing CRP acres with prescribed burns and re-establishing forbs so those grasslands are more productive wildlife habitat.

A big question that will be answered starting next week is whether CRP will pay enough to entice landowners to enroll in the program.

“Even with $7 [a bushel] corn, there’s still a place on every farm for conservation and CRP,” Nomsen said. “We’ll see what happens.”

He pointed to a recent report that this year’s corn harvest could be 30 percent above last year’s, which could drive corn prices down sharply, prompting some landowners to enroll in CRP.

So far, Nomsen said, there has been little discussion about the social impacts over the loss of so much land and water protection and wildlife habitat. In South Dakota, hunting is a $250 million-a-year industry, and thousands of Minnesotans flock there each fall to chase ringnecks.

But they may stay home if pheasants become as scarce as they are in Iowa, where the pheasant harvest fell from 1 million in 2003 to 100,000 in 2011.

Meanwhile, Nomsen said conservation-minded people and groups like Pheasants Forever must continue to fight for wildlife habitat.

“We have to be more proactive, creative and aggressive,” he said. “We can’t just sit back and let this happen.”

 

Doug Smith • dsmith@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

Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 9/15/14 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28
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