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Posted by: Sandy Steinman | December 14, 2012

Farm Bill Threatens American Birds

The New York Times has an op-ed article: Could the Farm Bill Devastate America’s Birds? on the threat the proposed farm bill poses to  American birds. The bill in the U.S. House could endanger a 276,000 square-mile are in the midwest know as the prairie pothole region. It includes wetlands and grasslands that provide breeding habitat for about half of North America’s breeding birds. It includes breeding grounds for upland birds like grouse and pheasants, along with waterfowl like mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintail, redheads, northern shovelers, and canvasback ducks.

Farm legislation has historically required farmers to protect wetlands and fragile soils in exchange for billions of dollars of farm payments. This is the first piece of farm legislation since 1985 to not include the protective environmental provisions.

The article reported that the area is already on serious threat:

This region is already being plowed under because high commodity prices have enticed farmers to opt out of the less lucrative government assistance programs, freeing them to drain wetlands and plant as much of their land as possible. A recent study by Defenders of Wildlife and the Environmental Working Group found that the annual rate of grassland loss nationwide had doubled between 2006 and 2011, much of it in the prairie pothole region. If this rate continues, most of the remaining grasslands there will disappear over the next 15 years.

The counterpart bill in the U.S. the Senate would require farmers to protect wetlands and fragile soils as a condition of receiving government payments

One positive response to the possible loss of wildlife habitat has been the actions of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

Recognizing the growing threat to the region, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service last year established the Dakotas Grasslands Conservation Area to save 2 million acres of wetlands through the purchase of permanent conservation easements from willing landowners.

Read more at:  Could the Farm Bill Devastate America’s Birds? – NYTimes.com.

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