Conservation Reserve Program expands
Jul 13, 2014 at 12:40 PM
One of the most successful programs initiated over the past 60 years has proven to be the Conservation Reserve Program.
It actually started in the 1950s, even before the program was known as it is today, with the main focus on agricultural land that was at the highest risk of soil erosion. The idea was to establish permanent vegetative cover on crop fields rather than leaving the soil bare, all in the effort to reduce the extent of soil erosion from wind and rain.
Back in that day, the program would provide a monetary incentive to eligible landowners over a three-year contract to address the natural resource concerns and improve soil and water quality, while improving forestry and wildlife habitats as a side benefit. It really wasn’t until about the 1980s the program received an even greater push due to the increase in farm practices such as plowing the fields “fence row to fence row”
As a result, an appreciable amount of native habitat areas many wildlife species depended on were removed. A lot more acres of crops were being planted, feeding more people across the country and the world, though it also produced its own issues and concerns that proved to be detrimental to soil and water quality, along with the quantity of wildlife habitat.
It wasn’t until the Farm Bill of 1985 was enacted CRP as we know it today was established. Many of the changes to the program have proven to be effective considerably, changing the way farm operators would manage their soils for better productivity, while improving and protecting our streams, rivers and, in our case, Lake Erie.
Over the years CRP has purposely been developed, tweaked and advanced to make the program more productive and has demonstrated to be one of the most widely-used of the Farm Bill programs to benefit wildlife. About a month ago, the Continuous CRP signups began, affording agricultural producers and farm landowners the opportunity to enroll in the program. From a conservation agency perspective, we’re hopeful to see a lot of interest from individuals who want to be the best steward possible, while also allowing for additional wildlife habitat to be created.
Among the goals of CRP is to provide beneficial habitat for wildlife of local, state and regional concern. This might include establishing cover best suited to species like ground-nesting and grassland birds, or it may be in the restoration of environmentally sensitive ecosystems, such as riparian areas along streams and rivers and wetlands.\
The white-tailed deer, Ohio’s official state mammal since 1988, has been extremely important as a part of our history. Our state’s only big game animal, the whitetail has made an exceptional comeback since its extirpation in the early 1900s and can be seen quite often in all 88 counties, in nature preserves and in the backyards of rural and suburban residents. Though considered mostly as a forest species, deer are very adaptable and have done well in a variety of habitats, including the diversity of covers from native prairie grasses to trees planted by landowners through CRP.
CRP options help diversify the landscape, provide wildflowers and shrubs as useful cover, and other food options for wildlife. The travel corridors farm operators can establish, whether windbreaks, riparian areas or field borders, allow for larger patches of suitable habitat to be connected. And the biggest plus is from the fact the vegetation established through CRP can contribute to the reduction of nutrients, from commercial applications or livestock waste, from entering our streams.
Agricultural producers in Erie and Huron counties interested in hearing more about CRP and options available can attend a public information workshop to be held at the USDA Service Center, 8 Fair Road, in Norwalk on July 22. Two workshops will be conducted to accommodate schedules, at 10 a.m. and again at 6 p.m. with Dustin Lamoreaux, farm bill wildlife biologist with Pheasants and Quail Forever, will be the featured presenter, in addition to Kevin Kaltenbach, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the staff from the Farm Service Agency. For questions regarding the workshop or CRP, call the office at 419-668-4113.
A fundamental change to CRP over the past two decades has been to shift the focus from agricultural conservation and production alone, to more of a natural resource and environmental protection program. The reason for this modification is to protect the natural environment on not only an individual perspective, but more on a larger, whole watershed perspective to benefit all concerned.
In accordance with the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, a definition of good stewardship was recently proposed that it is “the responsible use (including conservation) of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as of private needs, and accepts significant answerability to society’’
That is a sizeable commitment, indeed! For environmental protection to effectively and sustainably happen, we will all have to do our part — first individually, then collectively — if we want to make a noticeable difference today and in the years ahead.