Delta News

Delta Urges President Bush To Honor Promise to Hunters

BISMARCK, N.D. Recent announcements from the Bush Administration regarding the Conservation Reserve Program could have a devastating impact on ducks and other wildlife, warns Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson.
Widely considered one of the most successful conservation programs ever, CRP is reeling from a one-two combination of announcements out of Washington last week. First, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said his agency would offer no new CRP enrollments in 2007 and 2008. On the heels of that announcement, Johanns said the Bush administration may allow farmers to cancel existing CRP contracts to plant corn for ethanol production.
"Make no mistake, every CRP acre we lose in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States will mean fewer ducks, pheasants and other game and non-game birds across the continent," said Olson in response to the announcements. "We encourage President Bush to honor his promise to hunters and conservationists to increase CRP acres."

Olson was referring to a 2004 press conference on a Minnesota farm when Bush met with officials from Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and other conservation organizations and pledged to increase CRP enrollment.

CRP is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that reduces soil and water erosion and provides valuable habitat for wildlife by compensating farmers for establishing grass cover on marginal, highly erodible lands under 10- or 15-year contracts.

Called "Noah's Arc for Wildlife" by the late director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Mollie Beattie, CRP was established in 1985 and is credited for the explosion in continental duck numbers during the 1990s, the dramatic 20-year rise in pheasant populations and the restoration of many species of non-game birds.

Of the 36 million acres currently enrolled in CRP in the lower 48 states, about 28 million are set to expire between 2007 and 2010. Conservationists were openly concerned about CRP's future until President Bush's 2004 announcement that he had instructed the Farm Security Administration to fully enroll CRP at 39.2 million acres. The announcement was hailed as a grand slam for wildlife, conservation and the environment.

Among the many species of birds and animals that thrive in CRP's undisturbed grass cover, upland-nesting ducks like mallards, pintails, blue-winged teal, gadwalls and shovelers have been among the primary beneficiaries. During the wet cycle of 1990s, populations of those species rebounded from 1980's lows, several reaching record or near-record levels.

Research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that CRP contributed around 2 million birds to the fall flights of ducks each year between 1992 and 2004, and that number doesn't consider the year-to-year population growth when CRP-raised birds return to the breeding grounds in subsequent years.

"There's no doubt in anyone's mind how important CRP is to North American duck populations," says Olson. "Those big blocks of undisturbed cover are critical for upland-nesting ducks that are so vulnerable to predation in fragmented cover."

USFWS research also showed that wetlands embedded in CRP lands are more attractive to nesting ducks. Scientists don't yet understand why, but they suspect reduced sedimentation produces higher-quality wetlands. Small wetlands are critical for duck production because they provide essential nutrition for nesting hens.

CRP is popular with many farmers because it provides emergency livestock forage during droughts. Environmentalists support CRP because it effectively sequesters greenhouse gasses and reduces soil and water erosion.

"CRP is a win-win policy for farmers, ranchers and wildlife, and provides numerous environmental benefits as well," says Olson.

In recent months increased demand for corn to produce ethanol has prompted some to call for the release of CRP acres. Olson urges the administration to take a go-slow approach on the corn ethanol front.

"Farmers have been working for years to create a demand for corn to reduce surpluses and drive up prices," Olson says. "Increasing production would depress corn prices, and that's not in the best interest of our farmers.

"There are already hundreds of thousands of acres of land scheduled to come out of CRP this fall and those acres, coupled with new high-yielding hybrid seeds, should provide enough corn to meet demand until other technologies like cellulosic ethanol from native grasses can be developed.

"It would be a mistake to start plowing these fragile soils that aren't well suited to corn production in the first place."

Editors: For more information, contact Rob Olson at 1-877-667-5656 or John Devney at 1-888-987-3695.