Purchase photos

Opinions mixed on CRP release

8/3/2012

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Wildlife biologist Matt Smith is hopeful restrictions will reduce any adverse effects haying and grazing of Conservation Reserve Program lands will have on wildlife.

That's especially true on so-called CP-25 land, or "rare and declining habitat" Those CRP acres designed to help the likes of lesser prairie chickens.

"I don't think it's going to be that detrimental because they're limited to only haying half" of the acres in the program.

Smith, the farm bill liaison for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, said the agency came out in support of opening up the CP-25 land because of the extreme adverse conditions farmers and ranchers are seeing this year.

"They're the one that provide the habitat in the first place," he said.

It's the first time CP-25 land has been opened up for either grazing or haying, but the depth of the drought and calls from congressional leaders pushed that possibility forward.

It's not a big amount of land, but most of the CP-25 acres are in Kansas.

Out of the 1.6 million acres in that category, more than 725,000 acres are in Kansas.

Not everyone was in favor of opening the acres haying and grazing.

Audubon of Kansas Executive Director Ron Klataske said opening the acres "could be astronomically costly for wildlife, conservation programs and elements of the economy that are dependent on wildlife for as many years as it will take to recover the wildlife populations."

The fields in CP-25 might be "all there is in terms of survival habitat in significant landscapes for a wide range of wildlife species."

He went on to say lesser prairie chicken recovery in Kansas -- the only place where that's the case -- is a result of CRP in southwest Kansas.

He also points to a letter from congressional leaders, including Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Reps. Mike Pompeo, Kevin Yoder and Lynn Jenkins, urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service not to list the lesser prairie chicken as endangered.

The federal wildlife agency is expected to make its recommendation on that bird's status sometime this fall, a deadline set as part of a court settlement concerning a number of different species of wildlife.

The decision to release the CP-25 land, he said, could make it likely the bird could become threatened or endangered if the drought persists.

"The proposed action of releasing additional CRP fields, especially CP-25 fields, for haying is likely to make it imperative that the Fish and Wildlife Service make a finding that the species is threatened or endangered," Klataske said.

"Hopefully, this is all going to be a short-term thing," Smith said of the drought.

That's why he's hoping the effects on lesser prairie chickens will be minimal.

In fact, he's hopeful that winter or spring moisture might prompt a flush of growth in the grass.

"Impact to the chicken might be felt more next year if we don't get moisture and get some regrowth," Smith said.

Cover conditions in the CRP acres have been suffering as a result of the drought anyway.

"Lesser prairie chickens have been on the landscape for a long time and they've seen drought over the years," he said.

He thinks the restrictions imposed on haying will be enough to protect the birds. In addition to cutting only half of the field, restrictions include leaving at least 5 inches of cover and developing a conservation plan to protect species.