As Congress considers updated funding for food and agriculture, it’s also pondering a proposal to favor native plants on conservation land.
March 20, 2018 — Sometime soon — maybe this year, maybe next — biologist Jeffrey Glassberg expects to say goodbye to the Poweshiek skipperling. The endangered, orange-and-brown butterfly is one of several species in the Upper Midwest’s prairies on the slippery slope toward extinction. In the past decade, it appears to have winked out in the Dakotas, Iowa and Minnesota, leaving only a scattered few individuals in Michigan, Wisconsin and Manitoba.
As founder and president of the North American Butterfly Association, Glassberg finds their twilight wrenching. “I can’t tell you how painful this whole thing is,” he says.
Prairie butterflies owe their troubles largely to the conversion of native grasslands — among the most diverse ecosystems on the planet — to row-crop agriculture. Only about 4 percent of America’s prairie remains, according to the National Park Service; one report found that the Great Plains lost more grassland in 2014 than Brazil’s Amazon lost forest. Grassland conversion also has fueled disturbing declines in other pollinating insects — which provide some US$9 billion a year in agricultural benefits in the U.S. — and grassland birds, whose populations have plummeted more steeply and consistently in recent decades than any other group of North American birds.
Read more at https://ensia.com/articles/farm-bill/
FORT SMITH – Ask any wildlife biologist where they may find quail, and the last place you’d expect would likely be a golf course. Well-manicured fairways with small flags nearly anyone could spot from 400 yards sound like ideal hunting grounds for avian predators such as a hawk. But these manicured fairways aren’t the entire picture. Nearly every golf course contains “rough” spaces which add some degree of difficulty into the game. With a little forethought and planning, these unkempt spaces also can provide critical habitat for many wildlife species such as quail, and do it at a reduced maintenance cost for golf-course owners.
A few years ago, the superintendent of the Ben Geren Golf Course in Fort Smith decided to change up his management approach to maintaining the course.
“Roughs” were strategically converted to native grasses and wildflowers, which require much less maintenance than introduced species once established.
“Grasses like big bluestem and little bluestem are very drought tolerant and require little to no nutrients added to the soil because they are already adapted to the conditions,” said Levi Horrell, assistant regional supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at its Beaver Lake Regional Office. “They also improve local water quality by increased filtration and less fertilizer runoff. In the case of Ben Geren, the restoration plan has even been thought out in such a way that there is connectivity between native patches, allowing wildlife to more feasibly move across the course.”
Bobwhite Quail are just one species that has already responded to the restoration. Quail not only are game animals that have experienced significant declines in recent years, but they are indicators of habitat quality. Wildflowers that produce cover and forage for quail also support a wide variety of songbirds and even butterflies such as the Monarch. With many species seeing declines due to human development and changes in land use, creativity in our efforts to maintain or restore wildlife populations is critical.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Acres For Wildlife program can even provide technical assistance, seed and herbicide to restore native vegetation on private land. In this case, assistance was provided to the Ben Geren Golf Course to support their efforts in restoring portions of the property. In addition to the northern bobwhite restoration, the land’s historical purpose played a key role in its restoration.
“The property is situated on what was once part of the Massard Prairie,” Horrell said. “This prairie has now essentially been developed over and looks nothing like it once did. As a result, many wildlife and plant species that were native to the area are now either gone or increasingly hard to find.”
One flower species in the area (Nuttall’s pleatleaf) is so rare that Ben Geren is one of only a handful of places in the state where it is known to be found and it waits for only one perfect moment out of the year to bloom (after approximately three hours the entire event is over). However, with work like what is occurring at Ben Geren, the area will not only continue to provide enjoyment to the people who visit, it will also provide some protected space for the plants and animals that belong there.
Thanks to the success of this golf course conversion, the AGFC has planned a special meeting with the Golf Course Supertintendents Association of Arkansas this month to share the methods used to improve habitat and lower maintenance cost and discuss ways the AGFC can expand some of its resources toward these diamonds in the rough.
It is like no other form of hunting.
It is exhilarating, action-packed, and humbling to even the most practiced shotgun shooter!
I should know. I grew up with it on our southeastern Nebraska farm.
What kind of hunting is it?
IT is hunting the northern bobwhite quail.
Have you ever hunted quail?
It’s awesome! You need to try it. And, their numbers this year look outstanding!
Northern bobwhite quail abundance again increased statewide and in most regions of the state compared to 2016, based on the July Rural Mail Carrier and Whistle Count Surveys.
“Quail numbers are near all-time highs over much of their range in Nebraska, so this should be an excellent year for quail hunters and those interested in becoming quail hunters,” says Jeff Lusk, Upland Game Program Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
“This should be the best year for quail in quite a long time, adds Lusk. “It’s been about 20 years or more since quail populations have been this high.” It would be a fantastic year to discover or rediscover hunting the northern bobwhite quail in Nebraska,” he emphasizes.
Read more about quail hunting in Nebraska this year.
Published: Thursday, October 5, 2017
Congressional leaders from South Dakota and Minnesota are spearheading a bipartisan effort to include legislation in the 2018 farm bill designed to protect native prairie and grasslands by limiting federal subsidies for farmers who plow these areas for cropland.
Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) yesterday introduced S. 1913, titled the “American Prairie Conservation Act.” The “sodsaver” bill would create economic disincentives for farmers to plow native prairies and grasslands by closing a crop insurance yield substitution loophole in all 50 states.
Sens. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) co-sponsored the Senate version of the legislation.
Also yesterday, Reps. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) introduced the House version of the bill, H.R. 3939.
The legislation would not prevent farmers from converting native sod to cropland. But a summary of the bill says farmers who choose to do so would “face a reduction in crop insurance premium subsidy assistance and a reduction in guaranteed yields of insured crops.”
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementation of the sodsaver legislation in all 50 states could save taxpayers more than $50 million over 10 years.
Thune said in a statement that the goal of the legislation is not only to save money, but to “protect America’s diminishing prairie grasslands that are so important to our grazing livestock producers.”
Indeed, the legislation comes at a time when grasslands are disappearing rapidly across the Great Plains (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2016).
“Not only is this an example of a good-government solution, but the savings achieved by our bill could be used elsewhere in an already cash-strapped farm bill,” Thune said in a statement.
Thune sponsored legislation that added a sodsaver provision to the 2008 farm bill. Thune and Klobuchar in the Senate, and Walz and Noem in the House, also sponsored legislation that added the sodsaver provision to the 2014 farm bill. But in each case, it only applied to prairies and grasslands in six states — South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska.
The legislation “has successfully reduced the conversion of native sod, saved taxpayer dollars and encouraged wildlife habitat” in those six states, Klobuchar said.
But she added the latest bills “would extend this small, commonsense change to the crop insurance program and boost conservation efforts and savings nationwide.”
A study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found that the vast majority of new croplands — 5.7 million acres — plowed between 2008 and 2012 were grasslands (E&E News PM, April 2, 2015).
What’s more, the study found that two-thirds of cropland conversion during this time period occurred outside the six states in which the 2008 and 2014 farm bills instituted the sodsaver provision.
The legislation is strongly supported by conservation groups like the National Wildlife Federation.
“America’s prairies provide essential habitat for ducks, pheasants, raptors, songbirds and pollinators — yet we’ve lost more than 90 percent of original prairie acreage to the plow,” said Collin O’Mara, NWF’s president and CEO.
“This commonsense, bipartisan bill represents a concrete opportunity for this Congress to conserve one of America’s most iconic American landscapes and the wildlife species, ranching operations and sequestered soil carbon they support,” he added.
Richmond, VA, October 2, 2017 – If you think cattle and quail don’t mix, a new concept in managed grazing may just change your mind. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is now accepting applications for a unique program that focuses on establishing productive warm season forages to improve cattle production AND provide large acreages of prime habitat for ground nesting birds and other wildlife.
The Northern Bobwhite in Working Grasslands initiative offers technical and financial assistance to help eligible livestock producers implement various conservation practices to address habitat loss without taking their land out of production. Virginia will conduct targeted restoration activities throughout the state with a focus on the following counties: Augusta, Bland, Botetourt, Charlotte, Culpeper, Fauquier, Halifax, Madison, Orange, Pittsylvania, Rappahannock, Rockingham, and Wythe. Interested applicants are encouraged to sign up before October 20 to be eligible for fiscal year 2018 funding.
“This new program offers a ‘win-win’ for participating producers by enabling them to continue grazing on land with installed wildlife practices,” said Jack Bricker, Virginia State Conservationist. “By replacing fescue with native grasses, participants can also improve or maintain average daily weight gains, enhance soil health, and hedge against summer drought with fewer inputs.”
Northern bobwhite quail are a state-identified target species for the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, a collaborative approach to conserving habitat for declining species on farms and working forests. Our newest WLFW project is designed to help bring back the quail that were once an integral part of Virginia’s farming way of life. Leading researchers like Dr. Pat Keyser of the University of Tennessee’s Center for Native Grasslands Management have documented the wildlife benefits of managed grazing on native summer forages, concluding that this approach actually enhances the habitat for the ground nesting birds.
NRCS accepts applications on a continuous basis but makes funding selections at specific times. If funds are not fully obligated under the first signup period, the next deadline will be January 19. To learn more, please visit your local USDA service center or www.va.nrcs.usda.gov.
|Watch our new video to learn why Culpeper producer Carl Stafford is such a big believer in this new approach to managed grazing.|
(NBCI note: Bobwhites also benefit from native grass plantings on CRP.)
By Beverly Preston, USDA Farm Service Agency
North America is filled with people who appreciate birds. Many watch them, some hunt them for food and others just value their beauty and song. Wild birds of all types are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
That’s why it was so heartening to read in the just-released 2017 edition of the State of the Birds, produced yearly by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, that populations of wetland birds, forest birds and grassland birds are on the upswing, and it is due to a large part to voluntary USDA programs like the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
Take for example the prairie pothole region, which stretches from Iowa through the Dakotas and into Montana and Canada. Waterfowl enthusiasts call it “America’s duck factory.” According to the State of the Birds report, the number of waterfowl in the region has increased by 37 million in 20 years, and the annual economic impact from hunting and birdwatching is an estimated $430 million. That’s a real benefit to rural America and to the economic health of the people who live there.
Substantial benefits are evident elsewhere. For example, in Illinois, farm counties with the highest CRP sign up rates, spring bird counts for Henslow’s sparrows are now 25 times greater than before the program was instituted, and the grasslands the sparrows depend on provide $900 million in flood control, groundwater recharge and water purification services. In nearby Wisconsin and Michigan, grassland plots within crop landscapes doubled the number of grassland birds, and in doing so, increased the rates of predation of insect pest eggs by 30 percent.
‘State of the Birds 2017’ Identifies Benefits for Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation
(Washington, D.C., August 3, 2017) Thirty-seven million. That’s the increase in the number of waterfowl in the Prairie Pothole Region over the past quarter-century, thanks to the Farm Bill. The State of the Birds 2017: Farm Bill Special Report, released today by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI), documents the many benefits the Farm Bill—America’s single largest source of conservation funding for private lands—has delivered to birds, farmers, and rural communities.
For more than three decades, the Farm Bill has been an effective tool for wildlife conservation, sustaining essential habitat for more than 100 bird species. For farmers, ranchers, and forest owners, the bill provides a safety net that helps keep working lands from being developed. As the 2018 Farm Bill is debated for reauthorization in Congress, the report calls attention to the benefits of investing in conservation on private lands, which make up nearly 70 percent of the land area in the contiguous United States.
“For more than twenty years, the Farm Bill has provided widespread conservation benefits for our nation’s farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and all who enjoy clean drinking water, flood protection and healthy wildlife populations,” said Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Tom Moorman. “Millions of acres of working lands are conserved through Farm Bill conservation programs that ensure long-term sustainability and productivity of the land that supports waterfowl and many other species of fish and wildlife.”
It’s a striking record of success. Before 1990, for instance, wetland birds and waterfowl were on the decline, trending downward by 10 percent a year. Since wetland easements were added to the Farm Bill, those populations have soared 51 percent.
Grasslands and forest birds have benefited as well. “There’s no doubt that the Farm Bill’s conservation provisions have helped to stabilize populations of grassland birds, which had suffered a nearly 50 percent drop before grassland easements were introduced in 2003,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the report team leader. “Since that time, we’ve seen an encouraging 3 percent increase in numbers.” The report documents a similar turnaround in forest bird populations, which had dropped 19 percent before the Farm Bill’s Forestry Title was introduced in 1990.
State of the Birds is a regular report published by NABCI’s US Committee, a coalition of 28 state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships. Scientists, government agencies, and bird conservation groups use the State of the Birds as a resource in decision-making about conservation research, policies, and programs. Last year, NABCI’s State of North America’s Birds Report found that more than one-third of North America’s bird species require urgent conservation action.
Farm Bill programs support many kinds of partnerships with private landowners. As documented in the 2017 report, that approach pays off in many ways. Here are a few examples of what the Farm Bill gets done:
- It keeps birds off the Endangered Species List. Voluntary, incentive-based habitat-restoration projects funded by the Farm Bill made it possible to avoid listing the Greater Sage-Grouse as endangered in 2015.
- It promotes public-private partnerships and supports restoration vital to forest birds. In the South, Farm Bill Forestry programs have increased longleaf pine forests by 50 percent, providing valuable habitat and keeping forests from being converted to other uses.
- It protects vital prairie grasslands and wetlands and sustains North American waterfowl. In the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, 34 percent of all duck food energy comes from Farm Bill wetlands.
- It creates eco-benefits for the entire farm and delivers return on investment in clean water and birds. Farm Bill grasslands programs improve soil health and natural pest control, provide flood control and water purification, and recharge groundwater supplies.
State of the Birds 2017 also identifies four top conservation priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill, representing the unified voice of NABCI’s broad coalition:
- Increase funding for the voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that support farmers and ranchers financially while also supporting our natural infrastructure of grasslands and wetlands.
- Improve the impact of Farm Bill conservation programs on priority wildlife species, drawing on input from individual states.
- Enhance Farm Bill public-private partnerships. Partner biologist positions hold the key to matching landowners with conservation programs that best fit the landowners’ wildlife and land-use goals.
- Support the use of science, including monitoring and evaluation of Farm Bill conservation programs over time, to maximize the bill’s effectiveness and return on investment.
”Farm Bill conservation programs, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, get on-the-ground work done for species of greatest concern such as Golden-winged Warbler and Northern Bobwhite,” said Steve Holmer, Vice President of Policy at American Bird Conservancy. “The 2018 Farm Bill will hopefully build on this success by fully supporting these conservation programs.”
The U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI) is a coalition of 28 federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, and bird-focused partnerships that advance biological, social, and scientific priorities for North American bird conservation. American Bird Conservancy is a member of NABCI.
We’ve been waiting for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to do more than talk about quail restoration, and it looks like that time is coming.
Over the last two years, the Commission has taken encouraging steps to prioritize upland bird habitat. The agency has reached out to prominent bird hunting enthusiasts like Judge Bill Wilson, former state supreme court justice Jack Holt and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson. It also has hired its first dedicated quail biologist, Marcus Asher.
That’s all great, but so far the Commission’s efforts have been superficial. As is often the case in government, meetings and symbols substitute for progress.
Apparently, real progress is coming.
In his first meeting as Commission chairman, Steve Cook of Malvern directed the agency’s administrative staff to establish an upland bird stamp. If adopted, it will be an additional, elective cost to hunters similar to our state duck stamp or trout stamp.
Read more about the upland bird hunting stamp proposal in Arkansas in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In a handful of states, the annual surveys of bobwhite, pheasants, rabbits, and other game species provide valuable data for wildlife managers. Read the entire story in Audubon magazine here.