South Dakota is Dying: Here’s Your Chance to Help…

Pheasants Forever
Pheasants Forever

If you’ve read my posts about disappearing gamebird habitat in South Dakota (South Dakota is Dying & You’re Killing off SD’s Pheasants. See how.), you know that pheasants, ducks, and other wildlife are facing tough times across the state.

To try and tackle this problem, South Dakota’s Governor Dennis Daugaard is holding a Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit on December 6, 2013 in Huron. Find out more about it below, and if you care about what’s happening in SD, please attend. Unless action is taken soon, South Dakota will loose many more acres of prime habitat. As it does, more and more pheasants — and the great times, cherished memories, and big dollars they bring — will disappear.

Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit
PIERRE, S.D. – Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced today that he will host a Pheasant Habitat Summit to discuss the future of pheasant habitat and hunting in South Dakota. The summit is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, at the Crossroads Convention Center in Huron.

“Pheasant hunting is extremely important to the culture and economic well-being of South Dakota,” Gov. Daugaard said. “South Dakota’s pheasant hunting experience is second to none and draws hunters from around the world. We want to do what we can now to ensure these opportunities for future generations.

The Governor’s Pheasant Habitat Summit will provide a forum for landowners, sportsmen, members of the tourism industry and other interested individuals to learn about the current state of pheasant habitat in South Dakota. The summit will include panel discussions and public input as a means to explore ways to maintain and enhance pheasant habitat.

The Governor’s Pheasant Summit is open to the public and pre-registration is required. Individuals may register online here. Information and registration is also available by calling the Game, Fish and Parks Department at 605.773.3387.

Save South Dakota: The crop insurance connection…

It's pretty simple: Loose the cover, loose the birds.
It’s pretty simple: Loose the cover, loose the birds.

If you read this post from yesterday, you know that you’re paying for a federal program that’s having a devastating impact on pheasants and other animals  across the midwest. The federal Crop Insurance Program encourages farmers to plant land they used to set aside for conservation, and as more acreage goes under the plow, there are less area where wildlife can thrive.

Part four of the Capital Journal’s excellent series on habit loss in South Dakota’s talks about this program, and lays out some pretty stunning info on what lies ahead for the state.

The Crop Insurance Connection by Allison Jarrell

“When Lyle Perman was younger, in a different era in farm policy, he and his father converted some of their grassland into crops.

Perman, now a Walworth County rancher and crop insurance agent, recalls government agencies assisting them with designing drainage ditches and blowing holes in wetlands.

“You have to understand that this is the environment that a lot of us were raised in,” Perman said. “We were raised draining wetlands. Farming and erosion were just part of the business. You didn’t like it, but it was just part of what you did.”

That grassland conversion is part of what made South Dakota what it is today. But researchers, ranchers and conservation organizations have found that high commodity prices are driving today’s farmers to plow land that yesterday’s farmers deemed unsuitable for planting….”

Read the entire piece now: The Crop Insurance Connection. Then ask yourself  a simple question: Is this something you and I should be paying for?

Habitat in crisis: Hunters: Disappearing CRP acres threaten South Dakota way of life…

Now disappearing in SD-- pheasant cover....
Now disappearing in SD– pheasant cover….

I don’t remember anything unusual about South Dakota’s 2007 pheasant opener- blue skies, great dogs, memories made with family & friends, and hundred and hundreds of wild pheasants. But even though I didn’t know it, 2007 was a turning point for the state. In that year, the amount of land set aside by South Dakota farmers in the federal government’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) peaked at 1,600,000 acres.

Today, South Dakota has around 1,000,000 acres in the CRP, and the state is on track to have just 600,000 acres in it by 2020. This loss is on top of the thousands of acres of shelter belts, wet areas, and other important wildlife regions that have gone under the plow in the last few years.

In an excellent five-part series, the Capital Journal in Pierre, SD, reports on what changes like these will mean for the state. Here’s part 3 of 5:

Habitat in crisis: Hunters: Disappearing CRP acres threaten South Dakota way of life. By Justin Joiner

The clutch was touchy in the bus and the suspension almost nonexistent as a group of dove hunters scraped across the prairie into the middle of Darrel Reinke’s land northeast of Pierre.

The destination was a tract of land where grassland and grainfields stood side by side – good habitat for hunting doves, or, come the third weekend in October, pheasants. But as the sun sank low over the Great Plains that September day, the conversation turned somber. Some of the hunters on the bus worried that the sport they love, and South Dakota’s reputation as the pre-eminent state for upland game hunting, may be in jeopardy because habitat such as this is becoming harder to find…

If you care about South Dakota, read the entire piece now.

Heartbreaking – is the golden age of pheasant hunting is over?

Upland birds are in trouble in the midwest. In the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, the grasslands that pheasants, sharptails, and huns depend upon are being ground under the plow. As these birds loose these vital areas, their populations will plummet. Guaranteed.

I’ve written about this problem before. The article below from NPR puts up some hard numbers up show just how much ground has been lost. The number is startling: 1.3 million+ acres from 2006-2011. And since 2011 this process has accelerated. This is a huge, sad blow to the birds, and to all the people who love to hunt them.

by February 19, 2013
Hot spots of grassland conversion: This map shows the percentage of existing grasslands that were converted into corn or soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.
Hot spots of grassland conversion: This map shows the percentage of existing grasslands that were converted into corn or soybean fields between 2006 and 2011.

For years, I’ve been hearing stories about the changing agricultural landscape of the northern plains. Grasslands are disappearing, farmers told me. They’re being replaced by fields of corn and soybeans.

This week, those stories got a big dose of scientific, peer-reviewed validation. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows actual pictures — derived from satellite data — of that changing landscape. The images show that farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska converted 1.3 million acres of grassland into soybean and corn production between 2006 and 2011.

“This is kind of the worst-kept secret in the Northern Plains. We just put some numbers on it,” says Christopher Wright, from South Dakota State University, who got funding from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to take a close look at this phenomenon. Earlier studies from the Environmental Working Group and the USDA’s Economic Research Service have also looked at it, each using slightly different methods.

Still, Wright’s images are striking, and these changes are having profound effects on the environment of this region. For instance, it’s bad news for wildlife, because corn fields are much less inviting habitat for a wide range of wild creatures, from ground-nesting birds to insects, including bees. Corn and soybean fields are increasingly encroaching into the Prairie Pothole region of the Dakotas and Minnesota, the most important breeding habitat for waterfowl in North America.

In southern Iowa, Wright says, much of the land conversion is taking place on hillsides. The soil of those fields, without permanent grass to hold it in place, is now much more likely to wash into streams and ponds. And on the western edge of this region, farmers are taking a chance on corn and soybeans in places that sometimes don’t get enough rainfall for these thirsty crops.

Why? There’s one very simple reason: Corn and soybean prices are high, so farmers can earn a lot of money growing those crops. Meanwhile, funding has been declining for one important alternative — the government’s Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to protect wildlife and water quality by keeping land in grass.

Another reason, however, is getting increasing attention: crop insurance. The government subsidizes private insurance policies that cover the risks of poor harvests, or even that prices will fall. Because farmers don’t pay for the full cost of this insurance, critics of crop insurance say that it encourages risky behavior: planting crops in areas that don’t drain well, where rainfall is unreliable, or on hillsides where soil erosion is a problem.

Critics say that the government should drastically reduce its subsidies for such insurance. Not only is it fiscally irresponsible, they say. It’s encouraging farmers to destroy the grasslands of the northern plains, a priceless and increasingly scarce natural treasure.”

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