Posts Tagged ‘Tom Vilsack’

Conservation’s Black Monday

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Last Saturday, I attended the Rally for Iowa’s Outdoor Legacy held in Des Moines.  The event was designed to promote awareness for the importance of wildlife conservation in the midst of the highly charged agricultural production environment we’re living through these days.  After all, outdoor recreation including hunting and fishing, are a big part of the quality of life in Iowa and across rural America.

Speaker Shane Mahoney, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Pheasants Forever’s Dave Nomsen at this weekend’s Rally for Iowa’s Outdoor Legacy

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack spoke at the luncheon.  As part of his address, Secretary Vilsack announced the state-specific reallocations of 400,000 acres for the Conservation Reserve Program’s wildlife-targeting SAFE (State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement) practice.  In fact, 50,000 of those acres were allocated to Iowa.

Unfortunately, this reallocation comes with one enormous asterisk*.  As of today, October 1st, all new CRP and WRP enrollments have ground to a halt because of the U.S. House of Representative’s failure to act on a Farm Bill this year.

According to Wikipedia, Black Monday in the world of finance refers to Monday October 19, 1987, when stock markets around the world crashed, shedding a huge value in a very short time.  In the world of wildlife conservation, October 1, 2012 can equally be referenced as Black Monday.  As of midnight last night, the 2008 Farm Bill officially ended.  Beginning today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to enroll landowners in new CRP or new WRP contracts has been paralyzed.   Additionally, 6.5 Million acres of Conservation Reserve Program lands expired last night.  Again, there are no current options for re-enrollment or sign-up in alternative programs. Our elected officials have failed.  It’s plain, simple and infuriating.

Photos like this will be common as a result of the U.S. House of Representatives failures in 2012

That’s where you come in.  Before you head afield in the coming weeks, please check your own U.S. Rep’s position on the Farm Bill.  Your turn to make your voice for conservation heard comes in a month when we all exercise our right to vote.  Make your vote count for conservation this November 6th.  Thanks for your help and good hunting.

Mark you calendar to VOTE on Tuesday, November 6th

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

USDA Secretary Vilsack Targets Improvements to CRP

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

The USDA's new Highly Erodible Lands CRP Initiative will help prevent dust storms like this one in Kansas

Last Saturday evening before a sold-out crowd at the National Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic banquet in Kansas City, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced in a video message that the USDA will soon be rolling out important news about the Conservation Reserve Program.  In addition to the upcoming general CRP signup announced earlier this month, the USDA intends to specifically target very environmentally sensitive and highly erodible lands in an effort to encourage their enrollment as part of the ongoing continuous CRP.


This should be welcome news to bird hunters everywhere as we’ve watched massive declines in CRP acreage, especially throughout the northern Great Plains states.  Hopefully, this is the first in several actions desperately needed to shore up a struggling Conservation Reserve Program; the result of record land and commodity prices.


In addition to this latest USDA announcement, Pheasants Forever is calling on the USDA for the following actions:


  • Updated and more competitive CRP soil rentals rates.


  • Reallocations of wildlife-focused CRP practices like CP-33’s for quail, CP-37’s for waterfowl, and CP-38’s for pheasants and other critters.  In other words, reallocations move un-enrolled acres to states that have maxed out their current allotment.


  • New pollinator provisions concurrently strengthen CRP’s wildlife and farm economy benefits.  Pheasants and quail share a common need for habitat featuring a diverse forb (flowering plant) component with pollinating insects like honey bees, butterflies, beetles, and bats.  Following a pheasant or quail nest’s hatch, young chicks survive almost exclusively on a diet of insects.  These insects critical to a gamebird’s life cycle are also dependent upon a diverse mix of forbs.  Likewise, these flowering plants create fantastic brood cover allowing chicks to move through habitat at ground level, while having protection from avian predators in the sky.



Mother Nature has been helping upland wildlife with a mild winter thus far, but unless we shore up the critical habitat the CRP provides, it will continue to disappear from the landscape and our favorite birds’ futures will continue to look grim indeed.


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



$8 million in Federal Funds Allocated to “Open Fields”

Friday, January 21st, 2011

"Open Fields" funding allows states with existing walk in programs - like Kansas - to improve them, and states without such programs to implement them.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced an additional $8 million is available to create or expand existing public access programs or provide incentives to increase access to hunting and fishing and to improve wildlife habitat on enrolled lands. The funding is being provided through the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), better known as “Open Fields.”

Last October, 17 state public access programs (i.e. walk in hunting) received grants totaling $11.76 million through Open Fields funding. Secretary Vilsack stated that public access programs in 2011 will receive additional grants totaling $8 million toward the total of $50 million that is available for three years through Open Fields. Many of the grants funded in 2010, the first year of the program’s implementation, were for multiple years and will receive continued funding in 2011.

Our nation’s hunting and fishing traditions are inextricably tied to the health of America’s privately owned farm, ranch and forest lands, and we appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s commitment to American sportsmen and our shared natural resources through his support of continued funding of Open Fields.

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

CRP General Sign-up on Horizon

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

CRP acres are critical to pheasant flushes like this one

If today’s blog headline grabbed you, then you are undoubtedly aware of the value CRP’s 32 million acres hold in providing habitat for a variety of wildlife species, protecting water quality, enhancing rural economies and creating access for many hunters.  Add CRP’s importance to the quickly approaching September 30th deadline when more than 4.4 million acres of CRP are slated to expire, and the critical nature of our current situation begins to set in.  Consequently, I have been nervously watching for signs of progress leading to the much anticipated CRP sign-up announcement.  Thankfully, I’ve seen many of the signals I’ve been waiting for and the dominos appear to be falling in order. 

First, the official CRP Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, required by law has been completed.  The EIS clears the way for a new CRP rule, which was a hurdle for the USDA prior to announcing any new general signup.  Second, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on June 10th that up to $2 billion in funding was being directed into future CRP sign-ups and various Conservation Reserve Enhancement Programs around the country.    The bottom line from this funding news is that we can now expect as many as 4 million acres being accepted during the general sign-up offering period.  Those 4 million acres would be nearly double what might have been taken in without the $2 billion funding announcement. 

We may not have official sign-up details at the moment, but both of these signals point toward CRP sign-up details coming soon.  Stay tuned!

President Vocalizes Support for CRP

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

President Obama signs a memorandum to establish America’s Great Outdoors Initiative as (from left to right) Nancy Sutley, Chair of Council on Environmental Quality; Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator; Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior; and Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary all observe.

Last week, I attended the President’s “White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors” in Washington, D.C.  We joined our colleagues from all the major conservation groups for this historic event, which was the first of its kind attended by a sitting President since Roosevelt’s 1908 event.  If you recall, President Bush hosted two similar conferences in St. Louis and Reno during his Presidency, but was unable to personally attend those events because of unexpected circumstances; Hurricane Katrina detained him from St. Louis and the country’s economic crisis prevented him from being in Reno. 

President Obama acknowledged he wasn’t a hunter and lightly joked about one difference between he and President Roosevelt would always be that Roosevelt had killed a bear.  President Obama pledged; however, that he could certainly still act in support of sportsmen and sportswomen. 

During his remarks, President Obama singled out the wide array of wildlife and natural resource benefits the Conservation Reserve Program’s 30 million acres provide.  USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack also spoke of the successful CRP and acknowledged 2010 as the start of CRP’s 25th Anniversary.   Having both the President and the Ag Secretary acknowledge CRP is a good start to the coming debate in Congress over CRP’s reauthorization as part of the 2012 Farm Bill. 

As far as outcomes from the Conference itself, it’s up to us as hunters and anglers to walk through the door that’s been opened to us.  As an organization, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever is already talking 2012 Farm Bill details on a daily basis.  Our call to action for each and every member, bird hunter, and outdoorsman & woman is to get involved in the process.  Make your concerns about habitat and hunting issues be known by contacting your local, state, and federally elected officials.  The White House will also be hosting regional meetings on conservation issues across the country this year; be sure to attend these meetings where possible.  Together, our collective voices can help preserve our nations’ rich traditions in hunting and wildlife conservation.

Pheasant Festing

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

When 30,000 people come together, there are bound to be some interesting tidbits.

National Pheasant Fest 2010 is just days away.  As you may imagine, it’s occupying most of the gray matter in my mind.  Here are a few Pheasant Fest tidbits to help you win the random radio trivia contest or office water cooler face off.

  • 111,272 people have attended the first five National Pheasant Fest events beginning with Bloomington, Minnesota’s 2003 event.
  • Brett Favre was the 100,000 Pheasant Fest attendee in Madison, Wisconsin last year . . . just kidding, we actually have no idea of the true identity of attendee #100,000.  To the best of our knowledge, Brett Favre has yet to attend a National Pheasant Fest.
  • The first day Pheasant Fest was ever held in 2003 was my fifth day of employment at Pheasants Forever.
  • Until 2008, Pheasants Forever held Pheasant Fest every other year.
  • The very first Pheasant Fest Bird Dog Parade was held in the Des Moines skyway system in 2007.  That year’s grand marshall was Bryan Karrick of KCCI News Channel 8, Des Moines’ CBS affiliate.  Bryan and his black Lab, Chase, will return to lead the 2010 parade.
  • Iowa boasts 104 Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever chapters; the most of any state.  To grab the top membership spot away from Minnesota, Pheasants Forever volunteers in Iowa are striving to enroll 4,953 new members at Pheasant Fest in 2010.
  • experiences the most web traffic of the year during the week of National Pheasant Fest.  
  • USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to speak this Saturday of the Fest.  Secretary Vilsack will become the third Ag Secretary to attend Pheasant Fest.  Mike Johanns attended the Des Moines event in 2007 and Chuck Connor attended the Saint Paul event in 2008.
  • Des Moines marks the first time Pheasant Fest returns to the exact same city and exact same venue (Iowa Events Center). 
  • Only one Pheasant Fest has been held during a state’s current pheasant season.  Pheasant Fest 2005 in Omaha occurred during the final weeks of Nebraska’s pheasant season. 
  • Marian Gaborik (Former Minnesota Wild, current New York Ranger, and current Slovakian Olympian) checked out Pheasant Fest prior to the show’s opening in 2008 with a Slovakian television crew.  No word on whether that footage ever made it to air.
  • The daily temperatures of most of the previous five Pheasant Fests have not only been below freezing, they’ve mostly been below zero.  BUNDLE UP!
  •  NFL Hall of Fame Coach Bud Grant attended the 2008 National Pheasant Fest.
  • Tom Osborne, famed University of Nebraska football coach and former U.S. Congressman, attended National Pheasant Fest 2005 in Omaha.
  • To our knowledge, no former American Idol contestant has ever attended National Pheasant Fest.  We’re okay with that.
  • Since 2005’s Fest in Nebraska, over 1,000 attendees have visited the Landowner Habitat Help Room.  Pheasants Forever and partner biologists have evaluated 65,000 acres for habitat improvements during those visits.
  • State Acres For wildlife Enhancement (SAFE or CP 38), CRP’s youngest practice, was officially announced for the first time at Pheasant Fest 2008 in Saint Paul.


What will be the interesting tidbits to arise during Pheasant Fest 2010 in Des Moines?  Join us in Des Moines to find out.

Reflections on Last Night’s Pheasants Forever Discussion about CRP with USDA Secretary Vilsack

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

From left to right: U.S. Representative Tim Walz (MN), Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Vice President of Government Affairs, U.S. Representative Collin Peterson (MN), USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Howard Vincent, Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever President & Chief Executive Officer

It’s clearly been a tough winter on the birds.  As I drove home late last night, Orion ‘the Hunter’ shone brightly down on the snow covered landscape and I dodged occasional snow drifts and ice patches.  Earlier that afternoon I’d driven to southern Minnesota for an event and saw several bunches of pheasants, unfortunately crowded near roadsides or along edges of snow-filled covers. 

Last evening, I’d left a room filled with Pheasants Forever chapter leaders and members, farmers and landowners, state and federal agency reps, and other conservation folks.  We’d gathered for an informal discussion with several policymakers from Washington, D.C.  USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack was seated beside House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and southern Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz.  They listened to various presentations from resource professionals at Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources, and Pheasants Forever, on topics ranging from native prairies and wetlands to CRP. 

Secretary Vilsack reflected back to his election as Iowa’s governor and spoke about how there isn’t really a “manual for incoming Governors,” so when he asked the outgoing Governor for advice, the first thing he heard was “whatever you do, continue the Governor’s Pheasant hunt.”  The Secretary also told us about one of his first Oval Office meetings where the First Lady spoke about the importance of youth and healthy outdoor activities including hunting.  Chairman Peterson told a story of growing up in the ‘good ole days’ of the Soil Bank and that once that program ended and the birds disappeared he vowed to do something about it and he continues to do that today as one of Congress’s staunchest supporters of the CRP.  Congressman Walz and I reflected back to my first meeting with him in Washington, D.C. when his first words to me were ‘I’m a Rooster Booster!” referring to his membership level in Pheasants Forever.

Beyond these pleasantries were solid discussions about the importance of hunting and fishing to rural economies, the vast benefits of CRP, concerns over rental rates and eligibility, and the need for public access.   Specific to CRP, the Secretary reiterated that USDA clearly intends to maintain at, or near, a fully enrolled 32 million acre program.   That’s reassuring to us, as we enter a period of several years with expirations of more than 5 million acres annually.  We’re still waiting for the detailed news about how that will happen.  Check out next week’s National Pheasant Fest in Des Moines where we hope to hear more from the Secretary about continuing CRP’s 25 year legacy.