Letters to the Pilot
Farm the best, conserve the rest
From DON YOUNG / Ducks Unlimited
A national treasure is disappearing with little more than a shrug from the American public. Our 10-thousand-year-old native grasslands are being lost at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, it seems very few people recognize and appreciate their value and beauty.
More than 70 percent of the nation's original native prairie has been lost. Much of the remaining prairie is on poor quality soils not suited for production agriculture. Compared to 2006, the latest USDA figures show a 40 percent jump this year in the conversion of native grasslands into cropland.
Landowners in North Dakota and Montana plowed out 30,000 acres of native prairie in 2007. More than 20,000 of those acres were in the Prairie Pothole Region, the world's most valuable duck nesting habitat. Data from South Dakota is not yet available, but that state has had the highest rates of prairie conversion in the last few years. Unfortunately, these croplands on poor soils are highly vulnerable to erosion.
Our native prairie provides values to society that are lost once these prairies are converted to cropland.
Grasslands provide habitat for our wildlife, preserve our soil and water quality, and remove carbon dioxide from the air, thereby potentially helping to address global climate change.
This recent increase in the loss of grassland is driven mostly by a rise in the price of commodities such as wheat, corn and soybeans. These prices will moderate, but that may not happen before many more thousands of acres of native prairie are lost forever.
High commodity prices are not the only factor driving the conversion. Current farm policy provides substantial risk protection on these marginal acres through crop insurance and disaster payments, which are paid for by the U.S. taxpayers.
A recent congressional report, Farm Program Payments Are an Important Factor in Landowner's Decisions to Convert Grassland to Cropland, highlighted the relationship between government risk support and grassland conversion. This report found that farm program payments, like crop and disaster insurance, remove the risk of planting on marginal land that should never be cropped.
Clearly, current farm policy is creating unintended consequences for the future. Sound farm policy should provide a safety net for farmers, not encourage land-use decisions that leave taxpayers carrying the financial burden. That is why legislators and sportsmen are encouraging Congress to support a Sodsaver provision in the proposed farm bill that would discourage the conversion of native grasslands.
The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the 2007 farm bill and they included a Sodsaver provision to protect these native grasslands. While the House version of the provision is a good start, the Senate must act to include a stronger Sodsaver that effectively removes all federal incentives for converting the remaining native grasslands to cropland.
We believe that production agriculture is vital to our nation's economy and we heartily support farming lands suitable for such production. However, our nation's grasslands are too precious to squander, especially at the expense of future generations. It is time that farm policy supports the idea of "Farm the Best and Conserve the Rest."
From SHELBY MEYER / Alta
Sunday was Veteran's Day and I would like to remind everyone to find a quiet moment and reflect on our many blessings. Such as our freedom, family, friendship, liberty and love and remember those who sacrificed for the peace and security of it all and for all of us. Be proud to be an American, and thank a veteran for all of your freedoms and for their sacrifices! Our veterans have risked their lives for us, some may call them soldiers, but I call them HEROES! To this very day soldiers are under-appreciated... PLEASE remember them all, they so deserve it!
From BARBARA ANN DERKSEN / Alta
What a great idea for all of us to think about doing! This request came from the wife of one of our heroic vets.
When doing your Christmas cards this year, take one card and send it to this address. If we pass this on and everyone sends one card, think of how many cards these wonderful special people who have sacrificed so much would get.
Add to your card list:
A Recovering American soldier, c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center, 6900 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington , D.C. 20307-5001.