Say Goodbye To The Golden Eggs: How Topping Off The Tank With Ethanol May Bottom Out The Climate & The Pheasants That Lay Them

We recently wrote about duck hunters and tree huggers having a common, if unexpected, interest in mitigating climate change. It turns out that by conserving prairie pothole wetlands for the purpose of supporting duck breeding, that carbon sequestration by these wetland areas occurs at much higher per-hectare level than from cropping or tree planting. And, we also wrote about how the US Department of Agriculture was contemplating closing out contracts for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), basically to satisfy our increased vehicular cravings for 'corn liquor.' Many times the grassy swales currently in conservation reserve are contiguous to potholes. As a result, the policy push from the top to produce more corn-based ethanol could well end up a net climate negative. It's not just ducks and tree hugger types who are going to be unhappy about closing out CRP contracts. Pheasants, like the golden in our picture or his more common ring-necked cousin, are popular quarry in the upper Midwest, having become abundant after two decades of CRP successes. Via the Argus Leader we've learned that plowing under the reserves won't sit too well with hunters.Published under the title "Will less grassland mean fewer birds?", the Argus Leaders story points out that South Dakota alone will lose 27,000 acres of CRP protected lands this year (18% of the State's total CRP acres). "Recent changes in federal policy have made the decline of CRP acres inevitable. And as demand for biofuels pushes corn prices higher, it raises the possibility that ethanol will come increasingly from land once devoted to the state's beloved hunting tradition".

"The administration held a new [CRP] signup last year, but Bush's 2008 budget proposal has no money for new CRP contracts. It projects that program acreage will decline from 37 million acres nationwide to 34 million next year".

No one knows exactly what effect that would have on pheasant hunting. But a USDA-commissioned study last summer found that every 4 percent increase in CRP acres leads to a 22 percent increase in pheasant counts.

Image credit: Amit Dutta's Golden Pheasant, Male.

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