Bourjaily: Saving Conservation Reserve Programs

We don't usually address conservation in this space but the way I look at it, shotguns aren't good for much if you don't have birds to hunt with them.

Back in the early 80s, when fencerow to fencerow farming was devastating pheasant populations, I can remember going hunting with my cousin one day. It was right at the beginning of the whitetail population boom, and all we saw that were a couple of hen pheasants and dozens of deer. "The limit ought to be three deer a day and one pheasant a year instead of the other way around," Shaun said.

A few years later, the USDA's Conservation Reserve Program came along, turning millions of acres of cropland into grass. Pheasant populations rebounded. When the prairie droughts of the late 80s and early 90s ended and rains came to the Midwest, wetland basins in idled grass fields made excellent waterfowl nesting habitat and duck populations came back as well. The strong fall flights of the last 15 years have been due to rainy weather and CRP. We are actually "exporting" ducks to Canada as explained in this Delta Waterfowl Press release.

CRP is not perfect - it has not met its potential to improve bobwhite habitat, for instance - but it has been great for farmland wildlife and much better than intensive row-crop agriculture, which is where we seem to be headed once again. In the last five years, 4.2 million acres have gone out of the program, and there is a potential for another 21 million acres to go back into production over the next five years.

With the future of the program in doubt, the USDA is holding a public comment period through the rest of this month and into October as detailed in the this Pheasants Forever release.

Take a minute to voice your support.