View Full Version : MN: Future of federal conservation program uncertain

Bob S
07-12-2008, 08:27 PM
ARTICLE (http://www.startribune.com/sports/outdoors/24542844.html)

Star Tribune

July 12, 2008

The U.S. Department of Agriculture could decide this week to open millions of acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) lands for crop production -- a move that some say would be devastating for wildlife.

CRP has been called one of the most successful wildlife programs in history; some 34 million acres have been taken out of production and planted to grasses, reducing soil erosion and farm chemical runoff while providing a boon to wildlife. But its future appears uncertain.

The ethanol boom, high commodity prices and spring flooding are causing federal officials to consider letting landowners out of CRP contracts. If that happens, grasslands could begin disappearing almost immediately as farmers begin to prepare them for crops.

Millions of acres in Minnesota and North and South Dakota could be affected -- along with waterfowl, pheasants and other ground-nesting birds.

"Wildlife is going to suffer, water quality is going to suffer,'' said Ryan Heiniger, Minnesota conservation director for Ducks Unlimited.

Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer is being pressured by numerous farm and livestock producers to allow landowners to pull out of the program without penalty. A decision could come this week. Environmental and conservation groups have opposed the move.

"It's a grim time for CRP, and a grim time for native prairie [in the Dakotas]," said Scott McLeod, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist for farm bill programs in Bismarck, N.D.

North Dakota alone has 3 million acres of CRP he said, "and we could lose two-thirds of that."

High commodity prices already have cause landowners to let CRP contracts expire so they can plant more crops.

Venison program OK'd

Minnesota's venison-donation program will continue this fall, though with changes intended to prevent lead bullet fragments from contaminating meat.