While the ongoing drought in many parts of the country has been getting a lot of coverage lately, the one aspect that is of key concern to bird hunters is the drought’s effect on Conservation Reserve Program lands. In short, it’s not good. In many areas of the country CRP tracts provide crucial – and sometimes the only – nesting and brood cover for upland gamebirds.


Unfortunately, in a drought like the one we’re currently enduring, those same CRP fields are often the only areas where farmers and ranchers have any grass left for livestock. So the USDA can issue emergency rules allowing landowners to graze or hay CRP fields. And that’s exactly what’s happening now in one of the nation’s premier bird-hunting states.

From this story in the Topeka Capital-Journal:
Federal officials added Kansas counties to the roster allowed to engage in emergency grazing and haying in response to the drought, the state’s U.S. senators said Thursday. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both Republicans, said half of the state’s counties were now included in U.S. Department of Agriculture declarations allowing conservation reserve program acreage to be opened to hay cutting or grazing by livestock. “I am grateful USDA has taken additional steps to expand relief to those producers suffering from this severe drought and higher feed costs,” Roberts said. CRP emergency grazing was approved for 16 counties. They are Butler, Chase, Chautauqua, Cherokee, Cowley, Elk, Greeley, Greenwood, Labette, Lyon, Montgomery, Morris, Neosho, Sedgwick, Sumner and Wilson counties. The six counties now open to cutting of CRP land for hay are Elk, Ellsworth, Greenwood, Scott, Sumner and Wilson. Farmers and ranchers who choose to participate in the feeding programs must contact a county office of the USDA’s Farm Services Agency.

It’s a tough position to be in, for birds and landowners. Here’s hoping things look a little better (and wetter) by this fall. How’s the CRP situation in your area?