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Ducks Unlimited applauds decision to maintain the ‘Holy Grail’ of conservation

August 4, 2008

by Chris Schultz

From Ducks Unlimited

In a move contrary to several weeks of speculation, the Department of Agriculture announced that they would not allow acres of the popular Conservation Reserve Program to be put into production without repayment.

The announcement was made by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, who cited robust corn and soybean yields and less-than-expected crop damage as the reasons to not change the program.

“We are very happy to hear that Ducks Unlimited’s concerns, and the needs of wildlife, were heard by the USDA,” said Ducks Unlimited Director of Agriculture Conservation Policy Barton James. “The Conservation Reserve Program is the ‘holy grail’ of conservation, and we are pleased the USDA will maintain the program and the benefits that it has had.”

CRP has been a windfall for wildlife – adding more than 2.2 million ducks to the annual migration, and more than 13.5 million pheasants to the prairies.

These numbers contribute to the $76 billion engine of wildlife-based recreation that employs more than 1.6 million people.

The ducks reared on CRP land in North and South Dakota help fuel tourism throughout the nation, from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas and westward to the Central Valley of California.

CRP land is also responsible for removing more than 50 million tons of carbon dioxide from the air.

Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to global warming. Cultivating marginal acreage currently in the program would release the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, adding to climate change.

The program is credited with conserving more than 470 million tons of topsoil in the past year that would otherwise be washed into rivers and streams, degrading water for drinking, fish and wildlife, business, and downstream agriculture.

The soil retention accomplished through CRP also lessens runoff of agricultural chemicals, which have been linked to the growing hypoxic “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Losing CRP acres would have had a ripple effect on the American economy - lower bag limits and shorter seasons, both of which will decrease the money that sportsmen contribute to the economy and conservation,” said James. “Not to mention the lost jobs, the environmental degradation, and the loss of land held in reserve for future crises.”

Not all of the news released about CRP was positive, however. Secretary Schafer commented that one of the factors in the decision to not allow acres out without repayment was that many landowners were choosing to take their land out and paying back the rental rates and interest from their contracts.

USDA figures have shown a 50 percent increase in the number of landowners removing their land from the program in the past year.

Schafer also said that there are millions of acres of land with expiring contracts over the next several years, with 1.1 million acres set to expire in September 2008, and 8 million more acres during the following two years.

The overall enrollment in CRP needs to drop to accommodate the lower acreage cap placed by the 2008 Farm Bill, which became law last month.

However supporters of the program fear that the acreage will drop from the 39.2 million acres previously authorized, past the 34.7 million acres currently enrolled, to levels far below the 32 million acres authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill.

Rental rates on CRP land, which have been lagging behind the value of the land for crop production, will also remain unchanged, and will continue to hurt the popularity of the program.

Because the rental rates are determined from land prices over the previous three years, the recent spike in commodities has left CRP rental rates vastly below the rental rates for crop production.

Secretary Schafer also confirmed that there would be no new enrollment into the program.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with more than 12 million acres conserved.

The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres important to waterfowl each year.

Aug. 15 deadline approaching for 2008 Camp Ripley archery hunts
From the DNR

Hunters interested in the 2008 regular archery deer hunts at Camp Ripley near Little Falls are reminded that this year’s Aug. 15 application deadline is fast approaching.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began accepting applications for the hunts on July 1.

Hunters may pick from one of two Sunday-Monday hunting seasons, Oct. 19-20 (code 668) or Oct. 26-27 (code 669).

Due to conflicts with military training activities this fall, applicants are advised that these dates are three days later for season one, and one day later for season two than is normal for the events.

A total of 5,000 permits – 2,500 per two-day hunt – will be made available.

Hunters may choose from four options this year to apply for the Camp Ripley deer hunts:

• through the DNR’s computerized Electronic Licensing System at any one of approximately 1,750 agents located throughout Minnesota

• by telephone at 1-888-665-4236

• through DNR’s Internet licensing link at www.dnr.state.mn.us.

• at the DNR License Center, 500 Lafayette Road, St. Paul.

The hunt application fee is $8 per applicant. Those who apply by phone or Internet will be charged an additional convenience fee of $3.50 per transaction.

This year, participants will be allowed to use bonus permits and take up to two deer during their hunt.

To apply, resident and nonresident hunters will need one of the following: a valid state driver’s license or state issued identification card with current address, a firearms safety certificate number, or a Minnesota DNR number found on a recent Minnesota fishing and hunting license.

It is important that the identification card used reflects the current mailing address because that is where a winning notification will be sent if successful in the computer preference drawing.

Applicants must be at least 12 years of age prior to the hunt for which they are applying.

In addition, anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 1980, must have a firearms safety certificate, a previous hunting license, or other evidence of successfully completing a hunter safety course to obtain a license to hunt or trap in Minnesota.

Hunters may apply as individuals, or as a group of up to four individuals. Group members may only apply for the same two-day season.

The archery hunt at Camp Ripley is an annual event. The DNR coordinates the hunt with the Department of Military Affairs, which manages the 53,000-acre military reservation.

Hunting regulation changes give youths, mentors more opportunities
From the DNR

Minnesota youth now have more opportunities to get out into the field this fall and experience hunting first hand.

“As an agency we have worked hard over the past five years to reduce regulatory barriers and create youth hunting opportunities in an effort to increase participation,” said Jay Johnson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hunting recruitment and retention program coordinator.

Specific changes to hunting regulations that directly impact youth include:

• a person who is age 11 and has a firearms safety certificate may purchase a license to take big game that will be valid for hunting during the entire regular season for which the license is valid if the person will reach age 12 during that calendar year

• a person age 10 or 11 may take big game without license or firearms safety certificate provided the person is under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian where the parent or guardian is within immediate reach and licensed to take the big game; big game taken by the 10- or 11-year-old must be tagged with the parent or guardian’s license

• any person who is eligible to hunt small game can now apply for a prairie chicken license, regardless of age; a resident under 12 may apply for and take a prairie chicken without a firearms safety certificate if an adult parent or guardian who has a firearms safety certificate accompanies the resident

• youth ages 12 to 15 can apply for moose and elk hunts.

“Giving youths more opportunities to hunt is important,” Johnson said. “But the most important part of the equation is getting experienced hunters to make a commitment that gets and keeps these youth in the field.”

Additional information pertaining specifically to youth hunting opportunities can be found on pages 34-38 of the 2008 Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook.

Ten new conservation officers join the DNR
From the DNR

In a ceremony marking the culmination of 12 weeks of intensive training, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) welcomed 10 conservation officers to its ranks Tuesday, July 22 during a special ceremony at Camp Ripley.

The new officers will ensure that the DNR’s 152-field conservation officer stations are staffed.

“When our recruits finish our academy, we know that they have received the best training available anywhere,” said Col. Mark Johanson, interim chief conservation officer. “We pride ourselves on selecting the best people available and giving them the best training in order to provide the highest quality service possible to the people of Minnesota who depend on us for natural resource protection.”

Training sessions at the academy included confiscations and forfeitures; warrants and exceptions; emergency vehicle operation; self-defense; watercraft laws; recreational vehicle safety and regulations; game identification and enforcement; hazardous materials; crime scene management; and evidence collection.

Each of the 10 graduating officers was chosen from among hundreds of applicants who underwent a rigorous written practical examination to qualify for the academy, as well as a division interview, pre-work screening (functional capacity exam), psychological profile and background check.

The new officers will now spend the next 16 weeks field training with experienced conservation officers to gain on-the-job training for natural resources management and law enforcement-related activities before receiving their first assignment.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: In order to legally hunt any migratory game bird, which now includes mourning doves, hunters need to be certified for the Harvest Information Program (HIP). What is the purpose of this?

A: HIP certification is a tool the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses in every state to monitor the number of migratory bird hunters and the number and kind of migratory birds harvested each fall.

The certification process is not the actual harvest survey.

It simply identifies hunters of different migratory bird species so that a sample of these hunters can be selected to participate in the actual harvest survey, which asks them to provide more detailed information on their hunting activities.

This information is used to develop more reliable harvest estimates for all migratory birds.

This information is important for monitoring migratory bird populations and establishing future hunting seasons, which helps protect our hunting heritage.

Hunters can get certified when buying their license by answering “yes” to the question asking if they intend to hunt migratory birds, including ducks, geese, doves, woodcock, snipe and rails.

If hunters have already purchased their license and it does not say “HIP Certified,” they need to register for the program before hunting any migratory birds.

Certification is free and is available at all of Minnesota’s more than 1,800 electronic licensing agents.