Say goodbye to CRPPheasants, a game bird that is currently in ample supply in the area, may see a dramatic drop in numbers over the course of the next few years.
By: John Odermann, The Dickinson Press
Pheasants, a game bird that is currently in ample supply in the area, may see a dramatic drop in numbers over the course of the next few years.
New regulations instituted to the federal Conservation Reserve Program will see thousands of enrolled acres in southwestern North Dakota expire by 2012, which could have devastating effects on the local pheasant population.
“It’s scary,” Randy Kriel, Game and Fish Wildlife Division chief said. “When the USDA offered new extensions, very few were offered in the southwest part of the state.”
Land is now considered for the CRP by running it through an environmental benefit index (EBI), which the USDA utilizes to help it in the approval process for the program. While the EBI considers many plots in southeastern North Dakota to be a fit for the program due its classification as a wetlands area, the southwestern corner of the state does not fit as well.
As a result, much of the land that is currently held as in the CRP expires by 2012.
“We’ve been telling people that unless the USDA changes how they look at things that this was going to happen,” Kriel said. “Now it’s here.”
When you look at the breakdown of the numbers county by county, they become even more startling.
Stark County, which currently stands at 88,625.9 enrolled acres, falls to 3,154.7 acres, or 3.9 percent of current acreage by 2012.
Adams County is expected to fall from 69,587.9 enrolled acres to 3,226.5 or 4.6 percent of existing, Billings County falls from 17,135.60 acres to 24 acres or 0.1 percent, Bowman County drops from 63,113.5 acres to 790.3 acres or 1.3 percent, Dunn County falls from 19,706.2 acres to 614.1 acres or 3.1 percent, Golden Valley County falls from 35,622 acres to 2,230.2 acres or 6.3 percent, Hettinger County drops from 115,034.8 acres to 6,236.5 acres or 5.4 percent and Slope County slips from 21,548 acres to 567.90 acres or 2.6 percent.
Hettinger County is home to Mott, which is known nationwide for its fantastic pheasant hunting, and looks to be one of the counties that would be hardest hit.
The loss of CRP land could lead to catastrophic impacts on the upland game bird population in the region, specifically the pheasant.
“Prior to 1986 when CRP hit, people didn’t go to Mott to go pheasant hunting,” Kriel said. “In fact, the only really good pheasant hunting was found in the Ceder and Cannonball river drainages.”
Roger Rostvet, deputy director of the Game and Fish, started his career in the Mott area in 1977 as a game warden and echoed Kriel’s statement.
“When I first moved down there, seeing a pheasant was a rarity,” Rostvet said. “After CRP was implemented, we saw a dramatic rise in the bird population.”
The Game and Fish states prior to the institution of the CRP, the annual pheasant harvest was around 100,000 birds. Twenty years later, the annual pheasant harvest is around 800,000 birds.
Kriel said these CRP changes have been on the landscape for sometime, but people were more concerned with other issues, such as out-of-state hunters coming to the area.
“People were basically fiddling while Rome was burning,” Kriel said. “They were wasting their time arguing about stuff like that. We are looking at about a 90 percent loss in birds.”
Kriel and Rostvet mentioned that just like other federal programs, the way the CRP is implemented can be changed, but only if people speak up.
“I think one of the problems is that CRP has been a significant part of the landscape for 20 years now,” Kriel sad. “People have become complacent and just assumed CRP would always be there.”
From a policy standpoint, the Game and Fish cannot do much because the CRP is a federally run program overseen by the USDA.
Jim Jost of the Farm Service Agency in Fargo said the USDA really has to follow what is laid out in the farm bill.
“Once the farm bill becomes law, the agency develops regulation based on that law and the policy for the program,” Jost said. “Once the bill passes, we will have a better idea of the future of CRP in North Dakota.”
The current status of the farm bill is up in the air. It was passed by both chambers of Congress and now enters conference committee.
Kriel said the state’s congressional delegation is their, “best approach to solving the problem.”
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said the CRP program is constantly being reviewed.
“We’re going to have to do some hearings to evaluate the consequences of taking this land out of CRP,” Dorgan said. “The CRP program has been a very beneficial program.”
Dorgan added Congress does paint the broad picture, but the specifics are laid out by the USDA.
Regardless, the hunting landscape in southwestern North Dakota is likely to see some changes, said Rostvet.
“The way it looks right now…crystal balling it, in the next five years things are going to look a lot different than they do right now,” he said.