Outdoorsmen and conservationists across the country are alarmed about the new status of the Conservation Reserve Program, the largest conservation program in the nation. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture will accept 1.7 million acres under the 45th CRP general sign-up. This lowers the the total CRP acreage to 26.9 million acres, the lowest in 26 years.
Pheasants Forever calls this depletion a modern low point for conservation, one which will have serious ramifications for the nation's soil and water quality and wildlife. "Since, 2007, we have lost more than 14.7 million acres of CRP, accounting for 26 percent of the program and setting a 26-year low for total acres enrolled," said Dave Nomsen, vice-president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "CRP is significantly below the 30 million acre enrollment benchmark maintained for more than two decades. That 30 million-acre mark had been providing record benefits in terms of soil, water and wildlife resources."
"These recent CRP losses combined with an agricultural climate rampant with conversion of native prairies and wetlands, bulldozing and burning of shelterbelts, woodlots and dry wetlands is having a catastrophic impact on our landscape," said Nomsen. "In the aftermath of this announcement, the American people need to recognize what is taking place on their countryside, especially across much of the northern Great Plains. This is not for just the health of pheasant, quail ad other wildlife. At stake is a high quality of life in rural areas, loss of America's hunting tradition and environmental benefits important to a sustainable agriculture system."
CRP is a program designed to help farmers, ranchers and other agricultural producers, voluntarily, protect their environmentally sensitive land. Landowners whose lands meet the program criteria receive annual rental payments and cost-share assistance to establish long-term, resource conserving covers on eligible farmland throughout the duration of 10 to 15 year contracts. With CRP, famers and ranchers plant grasses and trees in crop fields and along streams and rivers. These plantings prevent soil and nutrients from washing into , reduce soil erosion that may otherwise contribute to poor air and water quality, and provide valuable wildlife habitat. Plant cover established on the acreage accepted into the CRP will reduce nutrient and sentiment runoff in our nation's waterways.
The reduction in CRP acreage effectively reduces the gains in conservation efforts on millions of acres over the last three decades at a time when conservation practices desperately need to be moving ahead rather than regressing.The loss of dollars invested and the accumulate effects of damage done to the environment in the future is disturbing. Hunting revenue losses to communities losing CRP acreage will be felt for a long time to come. And the blow to hunting traditions hurts in the face of hunter numbers declining in many regions of the country. The primary reason most hunters state for leaving the sport is lack of access to a place to hunt.