As you read this, North America's most important waterfowl breeding habitat is being plowed under on a massive scale. Surging demand for food, federal mandates for corn-based ethanol production, and the new Farm Bill are encouraging cultivation of every available acre, including pristine native prairie and land formerly enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
. . .
And the loss of prairie breeding habitat is escalating. In 2007 alone, more than 850,000 acres of former CRP land in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) were converted back to cropland. In total, more than 4.3 million acres of CRP will expire in this region by 2012. Even worse for the future of waterfowl, however, is the ongoing loss of native prairie. The remaining 22 million acres of native grassland in the PPR produce the majority of the fall flight of waterfowl from the United States each year. Sadly, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana have lost more than 500,000 acres of native prairie since 2002, with almost 64,000 acres lost just last year. If current loss trends continue, an additional 3.3 million acres of native prairie will be lost in the next few years.
Native prairie is still being lost to cultivation in Nebraska as well. This would be bad enough if these acres were being farmed for food, but for ethanol?!? This is sheer lunacy—it's an unpopular position here in Nebraska where corn is king, but ethanol is not the answer to America's energy concerns. And destroying native prairie for the sake of ethanol is not just bad policy, it's a crime against humanity.
[Redhead drake: Photo by Bill Houghton, borrowed from the DU website]
Habitat destruction, the biggest threat to most wildlife and therefore to biodiversity, is not just something that happens in the far-away Amazon. It's right here, everywhere developers are building suburbs and everywhere farmers are plowing under native grasslands. So what to do?
Well, the good news is that habitat destruction is not always carried out by mustache-twirling villains. In fact, some agents of habitat destruction would prefer not to carry it out at all. Quoting again from DU:
Fortunately, many farmers and ranchers are ready to work with Ducks Unlimited to save this vital prairie waterfowl habitat. Right now, these landowners have offered to sell Ducks Unlimited grassland easements on more than 300,000 acres of wetland-rich native prairie in North Dakota and South Dakota. For a one-time payment of only $360 an acre, DU can purchase these easements and permanently protect this vital habitat forever. Presently, landowner demand for grassland easements far exceeds available funding.
Accordingly, DU has started a "Rescue the Duck Factory" fundraising campaign. This is a worthy cause, enough so to overlook the redundancy of "permanently protecting habitat forever". Cashflow being restricted on the home front, I've decided to give up one of my days off, sign up for an extra shift at work, and pledge the proceeds to DU.
I challenge anyone reading this to think of a way to dig deep and contribute: Sign up for some overtime. Forgo a night out, or a week's worth of Starbucks. Heck, if you happen to have the cash on hand, just sacrifice that. It's only money... Your reward? The chance to help some of your fellow Americans do the right thing, and autumn skies full of ducks and geese.
[Ducks unlimited—redhead drake and a big flight: Drawing by Ellie, shortly after her 7th birthday.]
Three cheers, by the way, for Rebecca at Operation Desert Dove, who just took a job with DU in California.