By BLAKE NICHOLSON | Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Ducks and geese and maybe even bees stand to benefit from an expansion of North Dakota land into certain federal conservation programs.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is accepting an additional 25,000 acres of land in the state into programs under the Conservation Reserve Program umbrella targeted at wetlands and other wildlife habitat.
Of the total, 10,000 acres is devoted to State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement, or SAFE, which pays landowners to idle land to create wildlife habitat. Another 10,000 acres is for a program targeted at duck nesting habitat, with the remaining 5,000 acres for a wetland restoration program.
The new acres are part of a national allocation of 800,000 acres for the wildlife and wetland initiatives under the more general CRP, which pays landowners to idle environmentally fragile property.
“CRP protects water quality and restores significant habitat for ducks, pheasants, turkey, quail, deer and other important wildlife,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in announcing the overall effort last spring. “That spurs economic development like hunting and fishing, outdoor recreation and tourism all over rural America.”
More than 300,000 acres had previously been allocated for the initiatives in North Dakota, providing habitat for ducks, geese, pheasant, prairie chickens and sage grouse. Aaron Krauter, state director for the federal Farm Service Agency, announced the additional 25,000 acres in late July, saying “we hope to continue this progress.”
Landowners have filled nearly all of the previously allocated acres, and FSA expects the additional acres to be filled quickly, said Brad Olson, the agency’s program director for conservation in North Dakota. The initiatives are so popular in the state that the FSA office late last year requested and received nearly 83,000 additional acres for SAFE and a wetlands program. Those acres were taken from other states where they weren’t being used. In May, a farmer in LaMoure County enrolled 300 acres in SAFE, putting the program over the 1 million-acre mark nationally.
“There’s still a lot of interest out there in these site-specific conservation practices,” Olson said.
The state FSA office is asking for another 95,000 acres for the wetland and wildlife initiatives for fiscal 2016, which begins in October. The office in partnership with the North Dakota Beekeepers Association and Pheasants Forever also is proposing an allocation of 20,000 acres for a new initiative aimed at creating honeybee habitat.
“You think back 20 years ago, the agricultural landscape was a lot different,” Olson said. “There were a lot of sunflowers and other flowering crops out there. Now there’s a lot of corn and soybeans. Honeybee habitat has really diminished.”