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24
Posted on Mon, Sep. 13, 2004

Pheasant group works to promote value of CRP acres

Associated Press


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - A conservation group plans to meet with South Dakota landowners in an effort to boost the number of acres going into the federal Conservation Reserve Program.

The program, which pays farmers to set aside land for wildlife habitat, is accepting new acres for perhaps the last time until 2007. That is the same year that about half the CRP acres already enrolled in the program are set to expire.

Officials say the pheasant population has increased dramatically over the years because of habitat created through CRP acres.

If those CRP acres aren't replaced, they say it could mean a big reduction in pheasant numbers as well as South Dakota's hunting industry.

"We want to make sure we can shore up South Dakota's acres right now," said Ron Leathers of Pheasants Forever. "I'm doing everything I can to get the word out."

During the most recent round of CRP sign-ups, less than one-fifth of the acres South Dakota farmers offered were accepted into the program.

To make sure that doesn't happen again, Pheasants Forever plans to meet with 1,000 landowners to promote a more natural, diverse mix of species for CRP plantings.

The group hopes the strategy will mean more acres will get into the program and help return thousands of acres to prairie habitat capable of supporting pheasants.

When Congress established CRP in 1985, the pheasant population in South Dakota fluctuated around 2 million to 3 million birds. Since then, it has been near or above 5 million in most years, and set a record of 8.7 million last year.

"As CRP has increased, so have pheasant numbers - almost a linear relationship," said George Vandel of the state Game, Fish and Parks Department, which is paying for the Pheasants Forever outreach.

The CRP program has also been a boon for other wildlife, including ducks, federal and state officials say.

"During the period of '92 to '97, the CRP resulted in 10.5 million extra ducks in the prairie pothole region," said Kurt Forman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Brookings.

Those numbers show the value of getting more acres into CRP, said John Cooper, secretary of the state Game, Fish and Parks Department.

"The way that the last sign-up was structured, we certainly didn't get our just rewards," he said. "We've been working ever since to ensure the Department of Agriculture understands how critical this is."

Vandel said, "Those folks in Louisiana and Arkansas had better be aware of what's going on up here on the prairie."

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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