If you love pheasant hunting, please watch this video. Upland game habitat is being destroyed at accelerating rate across the midwest. Since 2006, 1.3 million+ acres of once conserved land have gone under the plow. The result is far fewer bird. Pheasant numbers in states like Iowa are already collapsing. If the trend continues, the Dakotas will be next. But you don’t have to sit by and let this happen. Watch this video to learn more.
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.
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.”
“I remember when…” is a phrase I hear all the time from older hunters.
“I remember when I could drive twenty minutes from here and flush a dozen coveys of quail.”
“I remember when that land out by the mall was great grouse cover.”
After reading this article in the New York Times, it sounds like pheasants hunters will soon be say “I remember when…” about the state of Iowa.
ELKHART, Iowa — Mike Wilson glared dejectedly through the mist on his silver-frame glasses at the soggy field of tall, dense brush, tilting the barrel of his 12-gauge shotgun toward the gray clouds.
“All I want to do,” he said, “is see a bird at this point.”
More than two hours into this pheasant hunt, the colorful rooster that one of Mr. Wilson’s hunting partners had shot that morning was now a distant memory. Only one other pheasant had graced the skies since, and it was too far off to even try a shot.
The pheasant, once king of Iowa’s nearly half-a-billion-dollar hunting industry, is vanishing from the state. Surveys show that the population in 2012 was the second lowest on record, 81 percent below the average over the past four decades.
The loss, pheasant hunters say, is both economic and cultural. It stems from several years of excessively damp weather and animal predators. But the factor inciting the most emotion is the loss of wildlife habitat as landowners increasingly chop down their brushy fields to plant crops to take advantage of rising commodity prices and farmland values…