Readers Respond

Thursday, January 17, 2008

CRP loss a tragedy

From JIM BRAUHN / Linn Grove

I don't write much these days unless it's on something important. The question of what's going to happen to the set-aside (CRP) program is enough to prompt me to pickup the pen, again!

Last week, a program aired on IPTV wherein a commentator indicated than an estimated 10 million of the current 15 million acres enrolled in CRP will be coming out of the program. The reason given was the high grain prices.

I got cold shivers!

The conservation reserve program protects, enhances and preserves highly erodible land. It also provides habitat for ground-nesting wildlife. Water run-off is reduced; stream quality is enhanced. It may not be the best possible habitat, but, it at least gave hope to those folk who like deer, songbirds, pheasants, partridge, rabbits, and the occasional coyote or fox!

Sportsmen in Iowa blythly assumed the CRP program would go on, and on and on...ad infinitum! Forever is a big word - as we're about to learn!

Granted, some of that CRP land was enrolled when corn prices were low. Also given that some CRP land was "borderline" in being "highly erodible". And some of it, at least around here, was "historical wetland" where a corn crop couldn't be produced nine out of ten years!

But it was something! A token, perhaps!? A prompting of our inner self to remember days of vast prairies. A place to go hunting. A chunk of land that maybe shouldn't have been plowed-up in the first place. A filter for rain run-off during spring storms.

In the economic scheme of things, though, pretty sunsets over prairies and wildlife don't count for much! Faced with $5 corn and $13 beans, landowners have to really, really like those intangible things to keep land in CRP!

We all knew this was coming. We just didn't know when. Well, if those commentators are right, when the permanent ag bill comes up for Congressional approval in March, we'll find-out how much CRP land will be left!

Now, this might not be a "doom-and-gloom" scenario for outdoorsmen! In face, seeding-down CRP land to brome-grass, then spraying it with herbicides to control hard-stemmed plants (weeds) might not have been the best-possible approach for wildlife. Much of the CRP land is now flat! The first snow/ice storm did that. Not much wildlife cover in a bare snowdrift!

But their voices are going to have to be heard in the Halls of Congress! If there's provisions in the upcoming Ag Bill to "enhance" the remaining CRP land, there might be hope, here! By "enhance", I'm talking-about planting permanent shelter-belts, no spraying, woody-stemmed grasses (Switchgrass, maybe?) wetland restoration, and no hay production!

Tall order, there! But it can be done! Work through those organizations already in place. Like Pheasants Forever, or Ducks Unlimited. Ot even the DNR. All can or should be able to help enhance what we'll have left. And I'm hoping we'll have at least have five million acres of CRP left!

Raising the gas tax?

From CHUCK GRASSLEY / Iowa Congressman

The idea of increasing gas taxes is a disappointment and probably even a big waste of tax dollars. A special commission came up with an old, cold, bad idea. We have economists saying the increase in energy costs is adding to recession concerns, while this commission reportedly will say we should add to those concerns. And the commission apparently isn't even following its mandate, which was to come up with 'non-tax' alternatives to the long-term financial stability of the highway trust fund. Raising the gas tax puts the brunt of the long-term trust fund expenses on automobile drivers, when diesel trucks and other heavy vehicles also use the highways. Also, the new law on the CAFE standard might increase the price of all automobiles to the consumer, so consumers could face a double hit. They might drive less, but they wouldn't be adding to the highway trust fund, which was the commission's mission. I hope there are more creative ideas in the commission's report than a gas tax increase. The nation needs innovative ways to meet energy needs without sinking the economy."

* Sen. Grassley is the ranking member of the Committee on Finance, with jurisdiction over taxes.