Posts Tagged ‘Grasslands Reserve Program’

Sodsaver Provision a Win for Sage Grouse

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

GSG  Palmer a

Eastern Montana rancher Bill Milton is pleased to see a new sodsaver provision in the Farm Bill of 2014. He runs a grass-fed cattle operation near Roundup, that’s on the edge of important habitat for sage grouse. The provision will reduce the incentive to convert native sagebrush and grasslands to tilled crops, which do not support sage grouse or livestock grazing.

“We just don’t want to break up any more grass,” Milton said. “What remains of our native grasslands is a high priority to keep right side up.”

“Over the past few years, high crop prices and high land values have pushed crop production onto every available acre, including some of our last, best, prairie habitat,” said Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, strong partners of the Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI).

Converting sagebrush-steppe into cropland —or sodbusting–is the biggest threat to sage grouse habitat in Montana and the Dakotas. Photo in Montana.

Converting sagebrush-steppe into cropland —or sodbusting–is the biggest threat to sage grouse habitat in Montana and the Dakotas. 

“This habitat is essential for upland birds and waterfowl,” Nomsen said. “Fortunately, the farm bill passed does include a strong sodsaver policy, and while the provision is limited to six states, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota, it represents a compromise that will help save native prairie in the states where it is most threatened.”

Sodsaver reduces the federal crop insurance subsidy available to landowners by 50 percent for four years on any lands they convert from native prairie to cropland. Under the new Farm Bill, landowners are still allowed to convert prairie, but the profitability depends on free-market economics, not agricultural subsidy.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified sodbusting as the top threat to sage grouse in Montana and the Dakotas. Addressing this threat will be a major factor in the Service’s 2015 decision on the need to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service relies on the Conservation Objectives Team (COT) report to inform its decision on what has changed for the sage grouse since 2010, when the species was found warranted for listing, but precluded by other higher priority wildlife in trouble.

The COT report specifically recommends: “Revise Farm Bill policies and commodity programs that facilitate ongoing conversion of native habitats to marginal croplands (e.d. through the addition of a ‘Sodsaver’ provision), to support conservation of remaining sagebrush-steppe habitats.”

This regulatory mechanism goes has gone into effect with the President’s signature. Montana harbors almost 20 percent of the world’s remaining sage grouse, second only to Wyoming.  The state also ranks first in privately owned sagebrush habitats out of 11 western states, with 64 percent of the habitat on private lands, like Milton’s ranch and many others in eastern Montana.

Milton said his operation benefits from an easement through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Grassland Reserve Program that ensures the native grasslands remain as grasslands.

“We are hoping that with good conservation practices working with NRCS and good grazing practices the species habitat can be conserved without an endangered species listing,” he said.

Milton has seen firsthand the loss of thousands of acres of native grasslands and shrublands converted to croplands over the past 30 years in both Musselshell County where he lives, and to the north in Petroleum County. He points out that the best farmland was tilled up long ago and what remains tends to be marginal and unsustainable for growing crops. He doesn’t think it’s right to subsidize practices that encourage plowing up what’s left of the prairie so essential to ranching and for sage grouse.

Science Informs Solutions

SGImap

Sage grouse breeding lek locations in black. Green areas converted to croplands. Research from Joe Smith, graduate student in Wildlife Biology, University of Montana

Dave Naugle, SGI science advisor and professor at University of Montana, has data in hand that demonstrates how plowing lands reduces sage grouse numbers. He works closely with the University of Montana and The Nature Conservancy to investigate the sodbusting risk and then develop strategies to prioritize conservation efforts.

A map of eastern Montana and the Dakotas shows sage grouse lek (breeding) locations falling on native prairie with none on the green-colored lands converted to wheat and other crops.

“Sage grouse hate fragmentation of their habitat,” Naugle said. “They need vast sagebrush-steppe to survive.”

To help keep it that way, he and his colleagues have used overlays of maps to identify the sage grouse strongholds at highest risk of conversion to croplands. They can then efficiently pinpoint where to help ranchers who wish to voluntarily enroll in rotational grazing and conservation easement projects.

“The sodsaver is a game-changer for halting conversion of prairie to cropland,” Naugle said. “The pendulum has now swung in favor of ranching and conservation.”

Field Notes are compiled by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

Farm Bill Extension Expires, PF Presses Congress to Act

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Until national native prairie, or "Sodsaver," provisions are enacted, native grasslands will continue to be susceptible to conversion.

Until national native prairie, or “Sodsaver,” provisions are enacted, native grasslands will continue to be susceptible to conversion. Photo by Matt Morlock / Pheasants Forever

Editor’s Note: Pheasants Forever along with Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation sent the following letter to President Barack Obama and Congressional leadership.

The Farm Bill extension has expired and, along with it, vital conservation programs will unfortunately be closed for enrollment. As the leaders of Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, we respectfully urge you to pass a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill as soon as possible. Consumers may not feel the full consequences of a lapsed farm bill before January, but conservation felt it immediately.

Farm Bill conservation programs like the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and Grasslands Reserve Program are now closed for enrollment. These are the most effective tools farmers and ranchers have to conserve bird and other wildlife habitat on private lands, and they will no longer be available without an enacted Farm Bill. This habitat also contributes environmental services to our citizens in the form of flood abatement, soil erosion abatement and clean water.

From 2006 to 2011, 1.3 million acres of native grassland were converted to cropland in the Great Plains, most of which occurred in heart of the duck factory. This is a rate of land conversion our country hasn’t seen since the Dust Bowl. It is not only vital for the birds our organizations work to protect that these lands are conserved and restored, it is vital to our country’s citizens. We could be recreating the dust storms of the 1930s without the conservation programs in the Farm Bill that encourage private landowners to maintain the grasses and prairie habitat that prevent erosion.

Outdoor recreation, including hunting and bird watching, contributes $646 billion to the U.S. economy each year. The industry also creates 6.1 million American jobs – more than the oil and gas, finance or real estate sectors. These jobs cannot be exported and fuel rural, local and our national economies. Conservation measures in the Senate Farm Bill, like re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance and a national Sodsaver program, are critical to ensuring this positive economic impact continues.

On behalf of our more than 1.5 million members and supporters, we ask that you use your leadership to expeditiously pass and enact a comprehensive five-year Farm Bill with a robust conservation title that includes re-coupling compliance to crop insurance and a national Sodsaver program.

Thank you for your consideration of our perspectives.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Governmental Relations.

Farm Bill Clears Senate as September 30th Deadline Looms

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Pheasants Forever members and staff recently talked conservation policy with elected officials in Washington, D.C.  (l to r) PF staffer Tom Fuller, PF member Daryl Landsgard of Saint Olaf, Iowa, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, and PF member  Bob Puetz of LeMars, Iowa

Pheasants Forever members and staff recently talked conservation policy with elected officials in Washington, D.C. (Pictured l to r) PF staffer Tom Fuller; PF member Daryl Landsgard of Saint Olaf, Iowa; Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa; and PF member Bob Puetz of LeMars, Iowa (PHOTO BY REHAN NANA)

I am pleased to report the United States Senate passed their version of the 2013 Farm Bill by a vote of 66 to 27 on Monday.  This bill would establish U.S. agricultural policy for the next five years.  Included in the Senate’s bill were:

 

  • Reauthorization of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)
  • Reauthorization of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP)
  • Reauthorization of the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP)
  • A conservation compliance provision re-linking crop insurance premium support to certain conservation practices.
  • A national “Sodsaver” program helping to safeguard native prairies.

 

The Senate’s version of the Farm Bill is good policy for landowners, hunters and conservationists.  Unfortunately, there are a number of steps remaining before this policy can take effect for the benefit of farmers and wildlife.

 

The next step is for the U.S. House of Representatives to take up the Farm Bill on the full House floor.  This step, as you may recall, is exactly where last year’s attempt to push the Farm Bill to completion died on the vine.  Based on the discussion coming out of the House this session, I’m optimistic the Farm Bill will reach the House floor as early as next week.  The House and the Senate titles are relatively similar with the exception of two important policy provisions.  The House’s current bill lacks the conservation compliance connection to crop insurance and has a regional version of “Sodsaver” rather than the national version.  We’re going to continue to work toward influencing the House to include those two important provisions.

 

Consequently, we are asking all Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever members to be on alert as we monitor Farm Bill debate in the House in the coming weeks.  There will likely be a time in the coming days when we sound the alarm and ask all members and hunters to contact their U.S. Representative with a key message about our position on conservation.

 

Unfortunately, there are still three more steps for a new Farm Bill after passage of a bill in the House.  The first of those steps would be a conferencing of the Senate and House Farm Bills together to rectify differences between the two bodies.  Second, the conferenced bill would have to be approved by a full Congressional vote.  And finally, the final bill would have to be signed by the President.

 

Obviously, that’s a lot of steps and the 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30th.  Congress needs to push this 2013 Farm Bill across the finish line before that deadline is met.  And, another extension to the 2008 Farm Bill would irreversibly change the face of private lands conservation threatening the existence of conservation programs that landowners and hunters have relied on for decades.

 

Stay tuned.

 

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever’s Vice President of Government Affairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pheasants Forever Outlines Top Conservation Priorities for 2013

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Because nothing impacts pheasant and quail populations like the management of the nation’s agricultural lands, Pheasants Forever has set its priorities for working with Congress in 2013 on new federal Farm Bill legislation. Pheasants Forever is pushing to strengthen the Conservation Reserve Program and to remove the safety net for landowners who plow under wetlands and native prairie.

The year 2012 will be remembered as a bleak one for conservation, but it’s a new year and we must make new conservation resolutions. The conservation title of the Farm Bill remains the single largest source of federal funding for conservation on private lands in the country, and our organization sees a great deal of opportunity to create policies that benefit landowners as well as wildlife. PF’s top conservation priorities this year include:

5-Year Farm Bill with Strong Conservation Provisions

At the end of 2012, Congress passed a nine-month extension of the current Farm Bill, leaving too much instability in rural America and for the country’s wildlife habitat resources. The current extension jeopardizes many of the bill’s key conservation programs, and if a full Farm Bill fails to pass by this October, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) and other key conservation programs will lose billions in conservation funding.

Restore Competitiveness of CRP

The Conservation Reserve Program remains the workhorse of America’s conservation policy, and Pheasants Forever believes the program can continue to succeed in harmony with agriculture, but only if it becomes more economically viable to producers in light of higher modern commodity prices. We need to put the value of wildlife habitat on more equal footing with the value of cash crops, as the payoffs in protecting these toughest-to-farm acres are stable incomes for producers, as well as wildlife, water and soil benefits for us all.

Linking Crop Insurance and Conservation

Pheasants, quail and other wildlife face risks every day, but the risks to farmers who convert wetlands and remnant native prairie to cropland have been eliminated through (largely) taxpayer subsidized crop insurance. Pheasants Forever supports re-linking conservation compliance so Swampbuster (wetlands) and Sodsaver (Protect Our Prairies Act) provisions are imposed to provide the public with environmental benefits. This past autumn, the Prairie Pothole Region was ablaze with dry wetlands and cattail marshes being burned off in record numbers. These were important winter cover areas for pheasants. If taxpayers are going to continue to support crop insurance payments, then clean air, water, soil and wildlife habitat should be a minimum return on our investment.

Photo by Pete Berthelsen / Pheasants Forever

Pheasant Nesting Cover through Pollinator Habitat

Pollinators not only play a critical role in bringing food to the table, but they also provide important ecosystem support, including pheasant and quail nesting and brood habitat – pheasants and quail share a common need for habitat containing flowering plants. Pheasants Forever assigned one of its senior leaders, Nebraskan Pete Berthelsen, into a new position to leverage concerns around declining pollinator populations to advance the wildlife habitat mission of Pheasants Forever. Berthelsen has helped secure many of the pollinator planting guidelines present in Conservation Reserve Program practices across the United States, and he successfully worked to make pollinator habitat a part of many other federal Farm Bill conservation programs.

Permanent Wildlife Habitat Protections

As land values have skyrocketed, the window of opportunity to permanently protect lands as wildlife habitat continues to narrow, accelerating the need for land acquisitions and permanent conservation easements. Pheasants Forever has assigned another member of its senior leadership team, Minnesotan Matt Holland, to serve as a national resource to aggressively utilize and seek out funding opportunities for permanent wildlife habitat protection.

Voluntary Public Access Programs for Sportsmen and Sportswomen

The Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program is an innovative program used to help fund dwindling public access to private lands, which constitutes the greatest threat to hunting in the United States today. Pheasants Forever supports the permanent authorization and funding for this program, which benefits both wildlife habitat and hunting access. It is crucial to give sportspeople a place to experience the outdoors, and this voluntary program creates a win-win relationship for the landowner and the outdoorsman.

The D.C. Minute is written by Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s Vice President of Government Relations.