Ethanol's Rise, Conservation's Demise Spur Prairie Habitat Losses

"BISMARCK, N.D. -- As pheasant season opened this fall, the news reports were grim: Fewer birds were expected across the Dakotas, their numbers most likely thinned by a rainy summer nesting season and an early fall blizzard."

"Beyond the weather, though, there are other reasons for concern in the Prairie Pothole region, the grasslands and seasonal wetlands that stretch across the middle of the continent through the Dakotas and into Canada. The federal ethanol mandate, coupled with a demand for grains overseas, has led farmers to invest in recent years in more cornfields and soybean crops. High commodity prices means many farmers are forgoing enrollment in the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays them to remove environmentally sensitive land from production.

Since 2007, the program has lost 6.4 million acres nationwide. Nearly 1 million of those acres were in North Dakota. State-run conservation programs in the pothole region, although not as vast, have also seen losses as the nation's Corn Belt has crept gradually to the north."

Erika Bolstad reports for Greenwire December 4, 2013.

Source: Greenwire, 12/05/2013