The Future of Hunting & Fishing in North Dakota

February 15, 2009 by  

By Doug Leier

Pheasants are dependant on habitat and weather

Pheasants are dependant on habitat and weather

We will guarantee you a more successful pheasant hunt, and at the same time, help improve your fishing. All you have to do is read this column.

I’d venture to say that introduction would generate more interest than if I simply described how to maintain healthy grasslands and protect clean water.

However, one leads to the other. Healthy grass and water have much more to do with a fish on the end of your line or a rooster in the bag than most hunters and anglers realize. And the amount of healthy grass and water in North Dakota may be headed in the wrong direction.

Much has been written about pending changes for the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, and how these changes will affect nearly 3.5 million acres of grassland habitat in North Dakota that have produced stellar pheasant hunting and improved fishing.

You’re right in saying that it’s more than just CRP – weather is certainly an important factor as well – but the good things that have come about because of weather in the past decade are all that much better because CRP existed. This national land retirement program has helped protect millions of acres against soil erosion, filtered drinking water, and supported healthy wildlife populations.

Recently, the immediate future of CRP was disclosed by USDA. Here is a brief summary: All acreage for the next two years has been offered extension or re-enrollment if the landowner chooses.

CRP has played a part in the high deer numbers

CRP has played a part in the high deer numbers

Don’t forget, this is a voluntary program relying on landowner participation. Landowners who have expiring contracts don’t have to re-enroll

For 5 percent of the enrolled acres, the two year extension is the end. That land will likely not qualify for future enrollment. Three-year extensions were offered on 8 percent of enrolled acres; 17 percent of enrolled acres were offered four-year extensions, and five-year extensions were offered on 27 percent of enrolled acres.

When you add them all together, it appears that after five years, 57 percent of existing CRP acres will no longer be in the program.

On the flip side, the remaining 43 percent or CRP land has been offered further enrollments of either 10 or 15 years.

So what does this mean?

A couple years ago, we in North Dakota were worried about a dramatic, night and day change on the landscape – that something like half of the state’s CRP would come out in one year. The present reality is more of a gradual change over the course of five years.

But still, the end result will be the same. We will have less grass and other habitat that has been beneficial for song birds, big game, upland birds and a rainbow of wildlife, along with filtering ground water, limiting erosion and protecting our water supply.

I’m bringing this subject to discussion because as with anything in life, banking on what happens years down the road is similar to throwing in the towel or hoping past hard work guarantees future success.

Is the real future of CRP as bleak as it was two years ago? I’ll say probably not. But can it be better? I think so.

If you’re a proponent of clean water and healthy grasslands, support for the future of CRP is still urgently needed. With continued work, perhaps those 2-5 year extensions can be saved again in the near future.


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