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More Concerns About Ag and Ethanol Driving Wildlife Away

Monday, February 1, 2010

On Jan. 25, the Le Mars Daily Sentinel reported on growing concerns over Iowa's diminished wild bird population, specifically the ring-necked pheasant:

"Last year and this year have been tough," said Chad Morrow, conservation officer with Iowa [Department of Natural Resources] for Plymouth County and part of Cherokee County. "But for pheasants, the true limiting factor comes down to the amount of habitat first; weather is a secondary factor." In the last few years, finding a natural habitat is becoming more of a challenge for wildlife, especially pheasants, due to more grassland being put into farmland production, explained Morrow.

The Marshalton Daily Herald, in central Iowa, fingered ethanol as the culprit, noting that cutbacks in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are returning protected areas to active cultivation:

"The pheasant population is so down," said Chris Lee, [Des Moines County] Conservation Natural Resource Manager and Aldo Leopold Pheasants Forever chapter member. "I hunted pretty hard this year, and I only saw eight or 10 birds." Though it's possible for pheasant populations to quickly bounce back due to the high number of eggs they lay, there may not be enough nesting ground left for that to happen. Lee said many 10-year CRP contracts with local land owners are expiring, which means nesting sites likely will be turned back into farmland. He blamed the push for ethanol fuel, which has many farmers planting more corn. At least 80 percent of Iowa's pheasant harvest occurs on private land.

The National Wildlife Federation released a report last month (Jan 13) that clearly documented how farmers are being encouraged to plow up as much wildlife habitat as they can in order to cash in on the corn ethanol gold rush. Despite the National Corn Growers' fondest hopes, the Federation report's findings have been gaining visibility in farm and Midwest publications. In the public policy world, it's one thing to attempt to marginalize environmental concerns as tree-hugging. But when a Natural Resources manager and Pheasants Forever member is echoing the sentiments expressed here and by the Wildlife Federation, the scope of the concerns has spread beyond the rim of a granola bowl. 


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