Ducks to Lose Habitat in Prairie Pothole Region

The Prairie Pothole Region of the northern plains states is America's duck factory. Unfortunately, America's duck factory is about to lose a big chunk of square footage. And that means there will be far fewer ducks flying south next fall.

From a press release from Ducks Unlimited (via the Outdoor Wire):
_In spite of the good news that USDA is signing up nearly 32 million Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres, Ducks Unlimited (DU) is concerned the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) will still be losing more than 250,000 acres of CRP this year. Those acres are especially important for duck production. "Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack tried to keep environmentally sensitive land in CRP, but for a number of reasons, landowners in portions of the PPR were not as interested as we had hoped," said Scott McLeod, DU governmental affairs representative for agricultural policy. "The resulting loss of CRP acres in the PPR will mean fewer acres available for nesting ducks when they arrive on the breeding grounds next year."

__DU scientists estimate a loss of 250,000 aces of CRP could reduce the fall flight by more than 100,000 ducks per year. Compounding the loss of CRP land is the ongoing conversion of native grassland to cropland, estimated at over 200,000 acres annually. Another 3.5 million, or 35 percent of the current CRP acres in the PPR, will expire in 2011-2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that slightly more than 4.3 million acres were enrolled in CRP in August. More than 4.8 million acres were offered nationwide by landowners during this general sign-up.

In the PPR, almost 674,000 acres were enrolled in the sign-up, while 973,000 are expiring at the end of this month. Some of those lost acres are likely to be offset by new enrollments in continuous CRP practices. McLeod says landowner interest may have been limited in the PPR by factors such as the sign-up coinciding with the peak of small grain harvest in the Dakotas, CRP rental payments still being too low and possible competition with continuous CRP practices, which provide greater financial incentives.

"Landowners did not receive points for wetlands in the Environmental Benefits Index (EBI) during this sign-up like they have in the past, and this undoubtedly was a factor in the lower acceptance rates in portions of the PPR," he said. Only four states had a lower acceptance rate than North Dakota. CRP offers are given an EBI score that reflects the environmental sensitivity of the land and then compete nationally with all other offers. Offers receiving the highest scores are accepted for enrollment._

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