With the Bush administration backing off on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), conservation and hunting groups fear the 22-year-old program once dubbed “Noah’s Arc for Wildlife” is a sinking ship.
Backers of the CRP, which pays farmers to plant soil-conserving grass and trees on land they might otherwise farm, call the program a boon to hunters, saying it has created millions of acres of new grasslands while dramatically increasing game bird populations.
But with demand for ethanol surging, corn prices more than doubling since 2005, the USDA is reducing the scope of the program. No new CRP contracts will be offered in the next two years, and the USDA is considering allowing some farmers to cancel existing contracts. That’s a bad idea, says Rob Olson, president of Delta Waterfowl, a North Dakota group that promotes conservation of waterfowl and hunter’s rights. Olson says changing the program could remove 28 million acres of the current 36 million acres in CRP by 2010. And, he argues, that CRP acreage isn’t even the best land to develop for corn production.
“It would be a mistake to start plowing these fragile soils,” Olson says.