FIELD TRAINING: GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER AND IRISH SETTER

Come Back Red Setter's Audie--2nd Place 2007 Futurity. Pic from Come Back's site.
Come Back Red Setter’s Audie–2nd Place 2007 Futurity. Pic from Come Back’ Red Setters.

I’ve always been interested in Red Setters. Last week, I was clicking around online looking for information on them and I came across this short video from Dogumentary TV.

It features Cliff Fleming, dog trainer, president of the Inland Empire NAVHAA, and red-setter fan, as well as some nice footages of a red setter in the field.

BTW: The title is the video is wrong. Someone who didn’t know dogs must have edited it. The video’s about training an Irish/Red Setter and a German Shorthair Pointer.

For the heart: My affair with shotguns, from Project Upland …

PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1
PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1

Why do we love what we love? Why are we drawn to certain things, even if those things make little sense in our lives?

Good questions, and ones I ask myself often.

Last fall, Project Upland’s A.J. DeRosa asked me to put pen to paper and write about my passion for fine shotguns. My piece is published below. It one of the essays featured in PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1.

For the Heart

LOVE CAN BE HARD TO UNDERSTAND, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S for anything other than babies, puppies, and ice cream. Of all the things I love about upland hunting—my pointers flashing through the woods, the whirl of a flushing woodcock, the cidery smell of old apple trees—my lifelong affair with shotguns is the most difficult for me to comprehend.

I’m not from a family of hunters or shooters. My grandfather never killed a bird in his life. While my dad was a fisherman, he never owned a gun or fired a rifle. And I didn’t grow up on a farm with cornfields or stands of aspen outside my door. I grew up in Connecticut, down the street from a 7-Eleven and a strip mall anchored by a bar called the Amber Light Lounge & Cafe. But despite all this, bird hunting, and especially shotguns, have always been my thing.

When I was a kid, I pestered my father to take me to gun shops. I didn’t care about the rifles, and I didn’t stare at glass cases lined with revolvers and pistols. I wanted to see the shotguns. Most of the ones I came across were autoloaders and pumps: Remington 1100s, Winchester Model 12s. Sometimes there would be an O/U, usually a Browning Superposed. Those always commanded my attention. When I was thirteen, my family moved to northern New Hampshire. Now there were woods behind our house and, I would discover, grouse.

Me & a Westley Richards I owned, from PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1
Me & a Westley Richards I owned, from PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1

Our first bird season there my father borrowed two shotguns. The one for me was a 16-gauge Savage Fox Model B. I was fascinated with it. I had seen side-by-sides in a little newspaper I received called the Orvis News, but this was the first one I had held in my hands. With its two barrels aligned next to each other and double triggers, it looked awkward and outdated. But it also seemed more refined and purpose-built than any other shotgun I had come across. It suggested something . . . different? better? I wasn’t sure, but I was reluctant to give it back at the end of the season.

My father and I hunted grouse throughout my high school years, but he had little passion for it. I tugged us out the door early Saturday mornings and insisted we hunt every weekend. Fortunately, my father obliged. When I was fifteen, he indulged me again by taking me to buy my first shotgun: a 20-gauge Remington pump with a twenty-one-inch barrel and a straight stock. I hunted with it into my twenties.

I went to college near one of the largest gun shops in the country. The sales floor was crowded with racks of firearms, hundreds in all, and there were always dozens of shotguns for me to look at. I spent many Sunday afternoons there looking at the Rugers, Berettas, Parkers, and Foxes—shouldering one, then another, and another, flipping over the price tags, trying to find anything I could afford.

Collectors and hoarders have a lot in common; the first group is just more discriminating than the other. In my first ten years or so of chasing doubles, I was a hoarder. If a gun had two barrels, I wanted it. My first double was an A. H. Fox Sterlingworth. Then there was a Parker VHE. Both were 12s and both weighed around seven pounds. The bluing on the barrels had been worn to gray, and the checkering on both had been rubbed smooth. Neither fit me well. But I didn’t care. They were the classic American shotguns, they killed birds, and they were mine. I was proud to own them, and when I bought them, I swore I would never part with either one. Of course, when other doubles came along, my resolve faded, and I sold both.

Over the next decade I owned Ithaca NIDs, a run of 16-gauge L.C. Smith No. 2s, a SuperFox, and more Parkers, including a 12-gauge DHE pigeon gun with thirty-two-inch barrels. There were Francottes, W & C Scott Premiers, and Charles Daly Diamond grades. Boxlocks and sidelocks. A Purdey hammergun from the 1860s and a Merkel double rifle from the 1950s. Guns, guns, and more guns. Some I shot; most I didn’t. Regardless of whether or not I fired them, I studied every one and noted their mechanics, styling, and workmanship.

Along with guns, I also hoarded information: The Double Gun Journal and Shooting Sportsman, old catalogs from gunmakers like Boss & Co. and retailers like Abercrombie & Fitch, books by Michael McIntosh, Stephen Bodio, Donald Dallas, and Major Burrard. I loved learning the obscure language and knowledge of doubles as much as I enjoyed the history of the classic American and British makers. All this was the sun and water that grew my fondness for shotguns into a full obsession. Losing money is an excellent way to learn a lesson, and my hoarding period was an expensive education in buying and selling guns.

Me & a lock from a Westley Richards I owned, from PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1
Me & a lock from a Westley Richards I owned, from PROJECT UPLAND – THE BIRD HUNTING ANTHOLOGY – VOLUME NO. 1

I learned how to spot reblued barrels, the right questions to ask a seller, and what dealers mean when they say a gun is “as new” (it’s totally redone). I learned how to measure up a set of barrels and the arcane language of shotgun proof marks. I also learned the value of original condition and, more importantly, how to spot it.

The most important thing my hoarding period taught me was what I thought was important. Like most people who get into guns, I started with an interest in what everyone else said was special: Parkers, Winchester Model 21s, Purdeys. After a while, I learned what was special to me: vintage British doubles (especially ones in their original cases), German O/Us made before World War II, and, above all, high-quality shotguns in original condition. When I concentrated on what I thought mattered, I became a collector. I learned to discriminate, and this taught me more about what moved me and who I am.

Why do we love the things we do? Perhaps it’s a search for wholeness or inspiration. Perhaps we’re looking to bring some type of beauty into our lives or connect with deep, profound currents running through all people for all time. Regardless, I know I can’t decide what I’ll love. My heart makes these decisions, and most make little sense to me. But if I want to feel satisfied and make my hours and days feel worthwhile, I need to follow its commands.

Maine Grouse Hunting – Those Moments: A Project Upland Film…

Maine Grouse Hunting - Those Moments: A Project Upland Film...
Maine Grouse Hunting – Those Moments: A Project Upland Film…

If you’re jonesing for grouse season like I am, you’ll enjoy this video. Just released by the guys at Project Upland it’s a great look into what makes upland hunting so special–and a great reminder of what’s just a few months away.

A furious flush of wild quail…

A Hifive Kennels success story: Thornapple Cody, Runner-up CH 2017 ABHA North Country Walking Shooting Dog Championship
Hifive’s RU-CH Thornapple Cody

I love videos of pointing dogs and wild quail.

This is another from Hifive Kennels, and it features a setter named Ginny.

If you hang around the coverdog field trial circuit at all, you probably know Hifive. Located in Beulah, MI, they’ve been breeding, training, and trialing dogs for 20+ years, and they’ve produced a long list of great dogs.

You’ve got to go to Maine’s Chandler Lake Camps…

One Maine's finest sporting camps. 6hrs from Boston in the North Maine Woods
One Maine’s finest sporting camps. 6hrs from Boston in the North Maine Woods

Roughing it is for suckers. I know of that, now.

I’m not used to nice accommodations, and on past hunting trips I’ve curled up with my Pointers to stay warm, eaten Beefaroni out of the can, and gagged while using outhouses ranker than rest-area porta pottys.

This year I wanted something better. So I headed Chandler Lake Camps in the North Maine Woods.

Chandler's: A 5-Pointer experience
Chandler’s: A 5-Pointer experience

The North Maine Woods are 4-6 hours from Boston, 3Xs the size of Rhode Island, and more populated with moose than people. Once you’re in them, a dirt-road empire rolls out before you in every which way.. It’s lorded over by logging trucks, crisscrossed with brook trout streams, and spotted everywhere with grouse and woodcock cover.

Some success after after a few days at Chandler's
Some success after after a few days at Chandler’s

Chandler Lake Camps is an outpost of comfort and graciousness amongst all of this. Built in 1902, it was an abandoned family retreat when current owners Jason and Sherry Bouchard bought in the ’90s. With hard work and grit, they rescued it from decades of neglect and turned it into one of Maine’s finest sporting camps.

For uplanders, Chandlers is a place to get into lots of birds, whether you do it by hiring one of the camp’s Registered Maine Guides or by grabbing a Delorme map book and asking Jason to highlight some likely looking spots like I did.

Lexi, Sky and I averaged 2-3 birds an hour — solid numbers considering it was our first time in the area. We hunted overgrown logging roads and shot into the woods to explore deep pockets of birdy-looking cover and the furthest cover we hit was only 15 miles away from the camp.

Guest cabin at Chandler
Guest cabin at Chandler

On top of great bird hunting, Chandler Lake Camps also has great accommodations. Guests are treated to their own hand-peeled, spruce log cabins, each with a wood stove, electric lights, complete indoor facilities and charging outlets for things like remote collars and GPSs.

Meals are served in the main lodge, and everyone eats together around a large, wooden table. Breakfast is to order, lunches packed for you, and dinner family style. There’s a different menu each night, and everything is homemade in the lodge’s kitchen–even the bread and bagels.

And while Chandler Lake Camps is far away from civilization, it does have internet connection to the outside world. So anyone who needs to stay in touch with home or work can check in.

Located southwest of Ashland, ME,
Located southwest of Ashland, ME,
An access point to the North Maine Woods. Dirt roads, moose & grouse cover lie ahead.
An access point to the North Maine Woods. Dirt roads, moose & grouse cover lie ahead.
Sunset at Chandler Lake Camps
Sunset at Chandler Lake Camps
Sky's first grouse of 2017, at Chandler Lake Camps
Sky’s first grouse of 2017, at Chandler Lake Camps
View from the front porch at Chandler Lake Camps
View from the front porch at Chandler Lake Camps
Guest cabin at Chandler
Guest cabin at Chandler
Classic wood cabins at Chandler
Classic wood cabins at Chandler
Classic wood cabins at Chandler
Classic wood cabins at Chandler
Boathouse at Chandler Lake Camps
Boathouse at Chandler Lake Camps
Deck off main lodge at Chandler Lake Camps
Deck off main lodge at Chandler Lake Camps
Classic wood cabins at Chandler
Classic wood cabins at Chandler

Let’s go wild quail hunting in Texas ….

Quail Coalition
Quail Coalition

Here’s something I’m dying to do, and with quail numbers up, I think it’s time for me to head west and check it out. I’ve never hunted quail — wild or pen raised. From this video, the experience looks awesome. The video was produced by the Quail Coalition. They did a great job.

Auction alert: 20 gauge Beretta BL-4 OU, 28″ bbls …

Beretta BL-4 OU, 20 gauge, 28", awesome gun
Beretta BL-4 OU, 20 gauge, 28″, awesome gun

Here’s a great bird gun. Beretta’s BL-line of OUs were imported into the US in the ’60s & ’70s by the Garcia Corporation. With various degrees of engraving and a touch better finishing, I think they’re a bit more refined the 686s. They can bought at better prices, too. This one is Gunbroker.com now. The online auction ends 4/27/2017 @ 2:42 PM.

Here’s the info on it from the seller:

Beretta BL-4 OU, 20 gauge, 28", awesome gun
Beretta BL-4 OU, 20 gauge, 28″, awesome gun

Used Beretta BL-4 20 gauge, 28″ bbls. This gun is in nice condition with only minor scratches and ware to it. None of the marks really stand out on the gun. Marks are noticeable but not bad at all. Overall gun was well cared for by the previous owner. Guns action runs smooth and opens and closes with no issue at all. Top barrel on the gun is Full choke and the bottom barrel is modified. Pictures of the gun should give you a good idea of how it looks.

Pictures from fall, 2016 …

I was going through some pictures this weekend, and I came across these ones I took last fall. Hope you like them.

Lexi pointing a grouse, fall, 2016
Lexi pointing a grouse, fall, 2016
Enjoying the view, Fall, 2016
Enjoying the view, Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Wildflower in an Alder cover, fall, 2016
Wildflower in an Alder cover, fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
Fall, 2016
This tire has been there a while. Fall, 2016
This tire has been there a while. Fall, 2016

Auction alert: 28g Ruger Red Label OU, No Reserve…

 

Ruger Red Label 28ga 26in Vent Rib, Nice NO RESERVE
Ruger Red Label 28ga 26in Vent Rib, Nice NO RESERVE

Ruger Red Label 28ga 26in Vent Rib OU, Nice NO RESERVE 28ga: This is a Ruger Red Label over/under shotgun in 28ga. It has a stainless receiver and 26″ blued vent rib barrels. It is chambered for 2 3/4″ shells with screw in chokes, 2 are included. It is in great shape showing just a few light handling marks. The checkered stock and forearm are in great shape, no cracks or chips. A very nice piece of wood! The bores are nice and shiny. It has a original Ruger plastic buttplate with a 14 1/4″ length of pull. The serial number is 420-156**.

Lexi becomes a bird dog…

Me & Lexi
Me & Lexi

Even though our trip to Maine a couple weeks ago produced few birds, it did give Lexi the chance to get out in the woods and start on down the path to becoming a bird dog. Here’s are a few quick videos of her in action.

Overall, she handles well – coming when she’s called, hunting to the front, quartering naturally, and coming around on command. Her range stretched out to 200-300+ yards on some casts, and after she had some solid grouse & woodcock finds her under collar, she started to hunt objectives.

You can see how much fun she’s having in these videos, and how dynamic and electric she is in the field.

We were there. But where were the birds?

Me & Lexi
Me & Lexi

I’m in a funk. My big hunting trip was a couple wees ago and things did not go well – bird wise, anyway. This annual trip is my bird binge for the year, and I put a lot of hope into it. The ways things turned out left me depressed.

I’ve hit the western part of Maine for several seasons now, and in years past, the end of October was prime: the leaves were down, the woodcock flights were in, and the grouse were abundant. This year, the leaves were down, but the birds were hard to find.

Weather may be been the problem. We arrived after two days of heavy winds and flooding rain, and all week the temps were in the upper 50s (instead of the normal 40s). Lexi and I hit covers all over the place – alders, pole poplar, overgrown cuts bordering bogs, etc.

For the first few days, the woodcock were nowhere to be found. Spots where Puck and I used to move 10-20 birds were empty until the end of the week. Then they just had 4-5 flight birds in them. We saw some grouse, but not many. On the last day, we bumped  a covey of six, all sunning and feeding at the edge of a clear cut.

On top of this, one of my favorite spots was overrun by an active logging operation (so much for that), and another was inaccessible due to a bridge being out. Lexi and I struck out to some new spots, but the birds just weren’t there.

Fortunately, Lexi did see some birds — enough to turn the light on in her head and start her on her way to being a hunting dog. She handled beautifully: Quartering naturally, turning on command, and coming when called. After she had a few whiffs of bird in her nose, she was even hunting objectives. With a couple of seasons and a lot of birds under her belt, I’m sure she’s going to be a great dog.

And I did get a chance to do some fishing with my Maine-guide friend Greg Bostater. He knows where to find great fish, as you can see in the pics below.

 

Old England vs. New England…they sure look a lot alike…

Puck and I are back from hunting. We had a great time. While I download some pics and pull together my thoughts, check out this great video of rough shooting in the UK.

Rough shooting is a lot like the kind of upland hunting we do here in the US. Check out the video to see what I mean, and to see how similar the countryside in Old England is to the stuff we see in New England.

Rare double alert: 16g L.C. Smith 2E, straight grip, double triggers…

L.C. Smith No. 2 Grade, pic courtesy The L.C. Smith Collector's Association
L.C. Smith No. 2 Grade, pic courtesy The L.C. Smith Collector’s Association

Every gun nut has THE shotgun they’re trying to find. For a friend of mine, it’s 2o gauge Lindner-made Charles Daly with damascus barrels. Another guy I know is searching everywhere for an all original, color-case hardened Belgian-made 20g sidelock with 28″+ tubes.

My holy-grail used to be a 16 gauge L.C. Smith No.2 with a straight grip and double triggers. I spent years trying to track one down. When you look at the gunmaker’s production numbers, it’s easy to see why.

L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun

According to the L.C. Smith Collector’s Association, the folks in Fulton made just seven-hundred and ninety-three 16-gauge No. 2s. I bet at least 90% of these had pistol grips, and that’s why one with this configuration are easy hard to find (I’ve owned at least 3).

But swap in a straight grip, ask for double triggers, and now you’ve got a tough gun to track down. L.C. Smith probably set up fewer than thirty 16g No. 2s like this, and I’ve spent a decade looking for one.

L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun

In the past few month — bang! — two of them have popped up on the market. When I found the first one, I shocked by the condition – 90%+ all original – and stunned by the price – $8,0000. This one has less of that condition, but the price  is still steep. Of course, it may be the last one you every see:

16 gauge L.C. Smith 2E with an original straight grip and double triggers: Nice, original condition LC Smith 16 GA, grade 2E.  28″ barrels choked .021 modified right and .032 left.  Both bores are .661.  Barrels retain 75-80% original blue.  Engraving is sharp and clear, original case color remains at 50% or so.  Straight hand stock with splinter fore-end.  Checkering is sharp and un-damaged.  Butt stock has an extension added that is so good that is hard to see.(see photos).  LOP is 14 7/8″ to a 1/2″ pad.  DAC 1 5/8, DAH 2 3/4, Cast is neutral.   Mechanically perfect, this one is ready for some action in the field or on the range.  Price: $5,495.00

L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun
L.C. Smith No. 2 Double Barrel Side-by-Side 16 gauge shotgun

One dog’s development: Watch Little Jeb get steady…

Check out this short video to see Little Jeb go from wild to steady — right before your very eyes! Here’s a bit about the video from the folks at GunDogDevelopment.com: A chronology of Little Jeb’s steadiness training. Over the last six months, we anxiously waited for him to show us that he was ready to be steadied on game. This video journal, begining May 25, 2013 captures all of his training sessions up to July 13, 2013. All of the clips are in sequence to show his progression.

Although edited, all of the benchmarks to move him through the program have been included. Little Jeb received one E-collar correction in the at the finally. If you watch closely, you can see a slight twitch in his tail when the correction occurred.

Good gun alert: a 12 gauge Russell Hillsdon side-by-side with case…

12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun
12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun

If you had to buy one shotgun for everything from pheasants and grouse to sporting clays, this 12 gauge Russell Hillsdon boxlock would be an excellent choice. It’s an Anson & Deeley boxlock – one of the most dependable actions ever made. It’s also a non ejector, so you never have to worry about those things going out of time or breaking.

12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun
12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun

Overall, it looks pretty original. The chokes are a bit open, but I wouldn’t let that bother me. Unless you’re shooting late-season wild pheasants, it shouldn’t be a problem. The best part of it is the price – $2,399.99. Not a steal, but still a very good price.

Here’s more about it from the seller:

12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun
12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun

12 gauge Russell Hillsdon boxlock: 28″ bbls, 2 1/2″ chambers, Cylinder and IC, 15″ LOP with 7/8″ wood extension, 1 3/8″ DAC, 2 1/4″ DAH. 6 LBS 7 OZ, Comes with a very nice hard takedown case. Wood cleaning rod. Snap caps. A gold color oil bottle. A horn decocker. And makers labels.

12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun
12 gauge Russell Hillsdon Double Barrel Boxlock Side by Side shotgun

Lets take a trip to the high prairies…

High Prairie Outfitters offers world-class wingshooting in Saskatchewan. Check out his video to see some great footage of their sharptail grouse and hungarian partridge hunting.

High Prairie Outfitters Upland Bird Hunts from Dan Wennerlind on Vimeo.

The end of bird hunting as we know it?

If you care about bird hunting and conservation, please read this and take action. Spread the word by passing it on to a friend, too.

From yesterday’s New York Times. BTW: I’m posting this in its entirety because I’m not sure if everyone can reach it behind NYT’s paywall.

Could the Farm Bill Devastate America’s Birds?

STRETCHING across the Upper Midwest is a 276,000-square-mile expanse full of wetlands and grasslands. This vast area — known as the prairie pothole region and extending from northwestern Iowa to Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana and into Canada — provides the breeding habitat for roughly half of North America’s migratory waterfowl. But unless Congress acts, this priceless ecological domain could come under severe threat.
 

Congress is debating reauthorization of the federal farm bill. The legislation is not just about the future of agricultural and nutrition programs. It is also about conservation and the fate of one of North America’s most important breeding grounds for upland birds like grouse and pheasants, along with waterfowl like mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, redheads, northern shovelers, and canvasback ducks.
 
Since 1985, the farm legislation has required farmers to protect wetlands and fragile soils on their lands in order to qualify for billions of dollars a year in farm-program payments. But the bill that has emerged from the House Agriculture Committee lacks an important provision that would preserve those conservation incentives. Perhaps no place would be more threatened by this failure than the prairie pothole region, where, 10,000 years ago, decaying glaciers left behind an extraordinary landscape marked by thousands of shallow wetlands.

This region is already being plowed under because high commodity prices have enticed farmers to opt out of the less lucrative government assistance programs, freeing them to drain wetlands and plant as much of their land as possible. A recent study by Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Working Group found that the annual rate of grassland loss nationwide had doubled between 2006 and 2011, much of it in the prairie pothole region. If this rate continues, most of the remaining grasslands there will disappear over the next 15 years.

It is not an overstatement to say that this looming destruction is one of America’s greatest conservation challenges.

The farm bill now being considered in Congress would eliminate longstanding direct federal payments to farmers. Instead, both the House and Senate bills would provide even more generous federal assistance for farmers who choose to purchase federal crop insurance. (At present, farmers who sign up for crop insurance are not required to conserve their lands and wetlands.) Unlike the House measure, the Senate bill would require farmers who do so to protect wetlands and fragile soils, as they were required to do as a condition of the direct payment program, and, until 1996, under the crop insurance program.

Thanks to the farm bill’s long-standing conservation requirements, soil erosion in the United States dropped by 43 percent between 1982 and 2007, saving more than a billion tons of rich topsoil, according to the Agriculture Department. In the prairie pothole region, there has been a resurgence in the populations of pheasants and ducks. And that has translated into a boom in recreational hunting that has generated tens of millions of dollars in annual income for rural communities, landowners and the states. It has also benefited sport hunting in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where the waterfowl retreat for the winter.

Recognizing the growing threat to the region, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last year established the Dakotas Grasslands Conservation Area to save 2 million acres of wetlands through the purchase of permanent conservation easements from willing landowners. But if the new farm bill fails to retain the conservation compliance requirement as a condition of enrolling in the crop insurance program, there will be little incentive for landowners to participate in the Fish and Wildlife Service effort. Easement payments can’t compete with high crop prices. And crop losses on farmland created by draining wetlands or plowing native prairie would qualify for insurance payments. So farmers would have every reason to plant as many acres as possible.

American taxpayers have always had a compact with farmers. In return for financial support when commodity prices were down and farm income was suffering, the government required farmers to conserve our soil and wetlands to protect our most precious and vulnerable places. This conservation compact has been a critical part of long-standing farm policy. It ensures that government payments protect not only our farmers, but also our natural heritage.

Members of Congress and President Obama should uphold this commitment. It is the kind of responsible leadership that our children deserve and American taxpayers should insist upon.

Jim Lyons is senior director for renewable energy at Defenders of Wildlife. Mark Rey is the executive in residence at Michigan State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. Eric Washburn is a partner at BlueWater Strategies, a lobbying firm, where he focuses on energy and natural resource issues. Mr. Lyons and Mr. Rey both served as under secretary for natural resources and environment in the Agriculture Department, Mr. Lyons under President Bill Clinton and Mr. Rey under President George W. Bush.

 

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