With the peak pheasant chick hatch just around the corner we should all be asking ourselves, "Can my grassland areas provide a better food source for young chicks?" The primary food for pheasant and many other upland chicks is insects. They provide valuable sources of protein and are at a level easy for young chicks to find. The best way to improve insect production in grassland areas is to add additional flowers or forbs. These flowers provide important breeding grounds and attract insects.
These flowers and forbs can be improved in different ways. Light disking and inter-seeding can enhance the number of flowers in these mono-culture grasslands. Landowners can also establish new sections of grasslands by broadcast seeding and lightly disking forb seed. Improving grassland areas by improving diversity of species provides a benefit to all ground nesting birds.
As we approach the summer season Congress may again look to legislate a new Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill is an extension of the 2002 Farm Bill. The debate on a new Farm Bill will have lasting impacts on conservation, wildlife, and our hunting heritage. This is evident when looking at the changes that happened in the 1996 Farm Bill. Prior to 1996 any farmer who received crop insurance or protection was required to implement certain conservation practices. This disappeared in 1996 and was replaced by crop insurance protections that require no conservation compliance. This has been a disaster for wildlife and conservation of sensitive natural resources.
Fortunately Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota has introduced the Protect our Prairies Act (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr5879). This act if passed would conserve native grasslands by reducing crop insurance for the first four years on newly broken native sod or grasslands. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill could save taxpayers nearly $200 million over 10 years. Please encourage your congressional representative to support this legislation.
As the spring planting season gears up I encourage everyone to think about the CRP general sign-up May 20th to June 14th. Remember CRP is a voluntary program that helps agricultural producers use environmentally sensitive land for conservation benefits. Producers enrolled in CRP plant long-term, resource-conserving covers to control soil erosion, improve water and air quality and develop wildlife habitat. In return, FSA provides participants with rental payments and cost-share assistance. Contract duration is between 10 to 15 years. Accepted contracts for CRP sign-up 45 will begin Oct. 1 2013. If you are a landowner or farmer please contact your local FSA or NRCS office about the CRP sign-up!
Also ground nesting birds need our help and we need to encourage all landowners and farmers to reduce or eliminate roadside moving. Though pheasants and quail are often seen along roadsides, few people realize the importance of roadside ditches to wildlife. Roadsides form an extensive network of grassy corridors providing nesting, brood-rearing, and winter cover for wildlife. As urban sprawl and intensified land use practices gobble up more prairies, these grassy roadsides oftentimes provide the only significant nesting cover for ground-nesting critters. In fact, research has shown that up to one-half of all pheasants produced annually may come from roadside habitat in some regions. That number can escalate to nearly two-thirds in areas without land enrolled in CRP. While I’d never argue ditches as perfect habitat since they provide narrow paths for predators to search and also lead to animal/automobile accidents, roadsides do provide at least some form of wildlife cover in landscapes void of other options for wildlife. The other negative of roadside mowing is the corresponding mortality of chicks too young to escape a mower’s blades.
Remember: August 1st
While I understand driving visibility and snow drifting as issues that can require limited roadside mowing, it’s a chore accomplishable in early autumn rather than during the summer. At the very least, mowing should be delayed until August 1st, when the crucial period for nesting and brood-rearing has passed. Essentially, the best roadside habitats are those that are left undisturbed throughout the year, providing early-nesting habitat and winter cover. Research has shown that, on average, 40 percent of all pheasant nests found along roadsides hatch after July 1st, and 23 percent hatch after July 15th. In other words, mowing on July 1st could effectively reduce pheasant production by 40 percent in a given year.
My first post on our new website coincides with two important conservation announcements. First I would like to reference the study done by Shawn P. Schottler (www.mn.nrcs.usda.gov/partnerships/.../HP%20Schottler%20et%20al.pdf). This study shows the connection between current agricultural practices and increased levels of erosion in rivers and streams across Minnesota. These changes are caused by agricultural practices which drain sensitive wetlands, convert crops to mainly corn and soybeans, and the increased use of drain tiling. Current agricultural practices are damaging our rivers and streams to an extent that we may never be able to fix. We need more responsible farm practices, better educated citizens, and legislation that encourages sustainable agricultural practices. I call on everyone to be advocates for these changes!
Secondly some members of the Minnesota Legislature are pushing a bill that would change the funding cycle for the LSOHC (Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council). The proposed changes include moving the funding cycle from an every year funding to an every other year cycle. This proposed change would significantly lessen the amount of grant dollars available to all conservation groups. Many projects which protect wild spaces, preserve water resources, provide wildlife habitat, and increase outdoor recreation opportunities would not be funded. These proposed changes would also fund a number of projects that have not been recommended by the LSOHC council. Please contact your state representative (http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder.aspx) and encourage them to oppose the changes to the LSOHC funding cycle.