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Just How Much CRP Land Has Pheasant Country Lost?

As a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys diverse landscapes, as well as a wingshooter who’s succumbed to the addiction of hunting wild ringnecks, it’s been nothing short of tragic to witness the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – often referred to as the “holy grail” of conservation programs – withering away the past five years.

Grassland conversion in South Dakota

Grassland conversion in South Dakota, including former CRP acres, is drastically reducing the amount of upland habitat for pheasants. Photo by Matt Morlock, Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Wildlife Biologist

If you’re a pheasant hunter and a conservationist, you’ve likely seen these facts before, and even so, they bear repeating. Consider that:

  • In prime pheasant habitat, a 4 percent increase in CRP grassland acres was associated with a 22 percent increase in pheasant counts (source: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture).
  • In 2006, Pheasants Forever estimated of the then 36 million-plus CRP acres nationwide, 25.5 million constituted in the pheasant range were responsible for producing 13.5 million pheasants annually.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has lost 9.7 million acres of CRP land in just five years and there are now just 27 million CRP acres nationwide. This mass exodus of wildlife habitat has cut right through the heart of pheasant country.

State 2007 CRP Acreage 2013 CRP Acreage Percent Decline
South Dakota 1.56 million 978,257 37 percent
North Dakota 3.39 million 1.79 million 54 percent
Kansas 3.26 million 2.37 million 27 percent
Minnesota 1.83 million 1.4 million 23 percent
Nebraska 1.34 million 895,251 33 percent
Iowa 1.97 million 1.53 million 22 percent
Montana 3.48 million 2 million 42 percent

In two states, South Dakota and Nebraska, total CRP acreage has fallen below 1 million acres, a baseline number many biologists and hunters feel is critical to maintaining quality pheasant numbers, as CRP is so essential for pheasant production.

While another 3.3 million acres expire from the program on September 30th, we have the opportunity to cancel out that loss with a four-week general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program that begins May 20. While landowners have trended away from CRP in today’s commodity crop-rich environment, CRP remains the single most effective and widest-ranging upland habitat tool in existence. And to help end the withering, Pheasants Forever strongly urges Congress to pass a new 5-year Farm Bill that includes a strong Conservation Reserve Program.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.organd follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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2 Responses to “Just How Much CRP Land Has Pheasant Country Lost?”

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  1. Gene Kelly says:

    So what effect is the late snow going to have on the bird hatch this year in the Dakota’s? Has the snow helped the water conditions?

  2. @Gene – one S.D. Game, Fish and Parks biologist says ice/snow is a concern for those pheasants that have moved away from winter cover in preparation for spring breeding. Still, most hen pheasants don’t start initiating nests until early May, so we’ll really have to just wait and see. – Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

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