The Chinese will buy all the corn US farmers can produce. US grain traders are as hot to sell corn to Asians as refiners are to export liquid fuels to them at top dollar. To keep trains and ships filed with grain, land conservation programs are being sacrificed on the alter of Libertarianism. To keep refineries at capacity, Republican presidential candidates are calling President Obama demeaning names for having not rushed through approval of the XL pipeline proposal. To the main course:
The end of duck and pheasant habitat protections.
Cash crop farmers and land speculators are ending their participation in Conservation Reserve programs, plowing under marginal lands to make those few hundred extra bushels. 'Marginal' agricultural land is land that is too steep, or rocky, or poorly drained, or likely to freeze early, or prone to severe soil loss and/or erosion. In times of low crop prices, banks are reluctant to lend for cropping marginal land. But now, while the price is hotter'n a dragons' breath, politicians of both parties are looking to gut Federal farm subsidies which don't buy them votes. Ducks don't vote. As a result, USDA-administered Conservation Reserve Program is near it's end.
My colleagues have convinced me I should formally identify intended irony. Here goes: century-old US wildlife conservation programs are in large part a Republican legacy, starting with Teddy Roosevelt, carrying through Nixon's term when the conservation reserve program was expanded. Gun and ammo manufacturers traditionally supported such critical habitat conservation initiatives. The US Congress and state legislatures also traditionally set aside hunting license revenues to keep the Mississippi flyway duck factories producing and to prevent pheasant chicks from being plowed under, or beheaded during hay cutting season.
Not any more.
I bet if you told PETA that ending the conservation reserve program would also spell the end of migratory duck and pheasant hunting they'd be overjoyed. Never mind that by dropping the USDA habitat protection program, these birds will pretty much disappear from huge portions of their range.
Fowling our own nests.
When farmers plow the steep hillsides, as they're planning, the soil is rapidly carried into streams and lakes at snow melt and during intense rains events (see picture below), worsening the Gulf dead zone and further reducing that land's productivity. The poster nation for allowing such destructive behavior to go unchecked is Haiti, which, over the course of 30 or 40 years, turned most of its once-lush island into a rocky barrens, incapable of sustainably supporting a healthy civilization. Haitians now depend on food handouts, having destroyed the land that fed them.
Back in the USA: When typically wet soils are cropped, the farmer is gambling it won't be a high rainfall season. If it is wet, inputs bought on credit will wash directly into the nearby stream, there being no vegetative buffer left to slow runoff and trap silt and nutrients.
When plowed land comes up to the stream bank, lacking wind breaks, the wind loses sediment directly into and near the surface water. Look at the mid-western agricultural landscape photo below, taken a week before the last snow melted, in the Spring of 1977.
Notice how the snow lining the stream bank and especially the snow bridge over the water are dark with silt, the color of the open field behind it, while the snow farther away from the stream bank is not silted. One picture tells the story better than multiple spreadsheets or lame internet picto-graphics could.
Corn in wetlands and steep hillsides will filth up the streams.
Footnote. Lloyd bid farewell this week to Kodak corporation: Kodak Files For Bankruptcy Protection; Nobody Notices Or Cares . I wrote this post today not only to make a point about political irony and clumsy nest fouling, but to say farewell directly to Kodak's lovely but hazardous Kodachrome - gone like dust in the wind.
Photos in the post are digitized versions of 35 year old, 35mm color slides. When I scaled the scanned images to fill my computer screen, they were so full of original color and their tonal range so astounding that they put any digital camera-produced color image of today to shame. The only thing I have ever seen which surpasses Kodachrome in tonal range and depth is the palladium positive print. (Not too many of those on Treehugger.com.)
So today is a day of multiple goodbyes.
Goodbye ducks and pheasants.
Goodbye party of TR that I once knew.
Gonna miss you.