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New General CRP Signup Good for Ducks, Duck hunters

Bismarck, N.D.—The announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will offer a general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup later in 2010 is good news for ducks and duck hunters, according to Delta Waterfowl Senior Vice President John Devney.

“CRP is a proven, time-tested voluntary program that provides numerous benefits to our land and waters, including grass nesting cover that each year produces hundreds of thousands of ducks for duck hunters across the U.S.,” said Devney. “This is welcome news because we haven’t had a signup since 2006.”

Established in 1985, CRP pays farmers and ranchers to idle environmentally sensitive lands and plant them to grass and other cover types. The voluntary program currently has 31.1 million acres enrolled nationwide, down nearly 7 million acres in the last three years. In addition, the 2008 Farm Bill reduced the national CRP allotment from 39.2 million to 32 million acres, and the Obama administration has floated the idea of reducing the existing cap to 24 million.

“We need to keep CRP acreage at that 32-million cap, especially considering the millions of acres that were lost in the last farm bill,” said Devney said, noting that contracts on 4.4 million CRP acres nationwide expire on September 30th.

Despite the announcement of a new general signup, Devney says the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), often called the nation’s duck factory, is slated to lose millions of CRP acres in the next several years because of expiring contracts.

For example, North Dakota currently has 2.7 million CRP acres, down from its historic high of 3.4 million in 2007. Devney says significant acreage losses could happen, and fast. “Starting in 2010 and by the end of 2012, contracts on an additional 1.5 million acres are slated to expire in North Dakota,” he said. “That’s a lot of lost nesting cover for ducks and other ground-nesting birds. And that’s why the Prairie Pothole Region should be a national priority area for signup in 2010.”

According to research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CRP in the Prairie Pothole Region produces as many as 2 million incremental ducks each year to the fall flight. From 1992 to 1997, some duck species, according to the research, increased 46 percent, adding roughly 12 million birds to the migration.

In addition, Devney said he’s pleased with the USDA’s decision to increase acre allotments by 300,000 for three practices under continuous CRP to help bolster habitat for ducks, pheasants and quail. The allotment for Conservation Practice 37, also called the Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative, will increase by 50,000 acres for Prairie Pothole Region states, the majority of which going to the Dakotas. “That’s welcome news, too,” he said.