Wildlife Management Institute

Governors Have a Say in Prairie Conservation PDF Print
Wednesday, 14 January 2009 15:44

photo of a prairie by Wadefromokalahoma (creative commons license)The future of thousands of acres of virgin prairie hangs in the balance as the governors of five midwestern states determine the rules for participation in U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) farm programs in the Prairie Pothole Region of the country, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

A provision in the 2008 Farm Bill, commonly referred to as Sodsaver, would potentially eliminate eligibility for federal crop insurance programs of landowners in the Prairie Pothole National Priority Area who plow native grasslands and plant them to crops.  The catch is that the governors of the five affected states—North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Montana—were given the option in the legislation to enact or cancel the rules for their respective states.  During debate on the Farm Bill, Sodsaver was reduced from being mandatory nationwide in some versions of the legislation to being optional in portions of these five states in its final legislative iteration.

According to the General Accountability Office, the Prairie Pothole Region in the United States encompasses 64 million acres and provides breeding and nesting habitat for more than 60 percent of the country’s key migratory bird species.  The region is especially important for nesting ducks.

Not surprisingly, agricultural production interests are pushing the governors to choose not to participate in Sodsaver, claiming it puts farmers in the region at an economic disadvantage compared with producers in other areas. Conservationists, on the other hand, point out that the reason this ground is still native prairie is because it is some of the poorest ground available for crop production.  Also noted is that, even under the best management practices, soil erosion and runoff will increase if these native grasslands are converted to crops.

Partially driven by record-high commodity prices, as much as 500,000 acres of native prairie in the United States were converted to crop production during 2007 alone.

USDA asked the governors to make a decision by February 15.  None of the five has announced a decision as yet.  (pmr)