Northern Great Plains Grassland and Wetland Habitat Falls to the Plow
Vital prairie pothole habitat is disappearing. Reformed farm- and ethanol-subsidy programs--and economic incentives--are needed to leave these crucial lands alone.
When I asked Adair to comment on the loud opposition from radical, anti-environmental outfits like the Farm Bureau that label the initiative a "land grab," he offered this: "Grants would be determined by the governor, the attorney general, and the agriculture commissioner. So this notion that they're going to take big parcels from farming is ridiculous, just a scare tactic. That's one of the Farm Bureau's favorite fundraising strategies: 'These crazy enviros want to buy up the whole state, so we can't let them get a foot in the door.' "
I was feeling better about the future of Great Plains wildlife when I left North Dakota than when I had arrived. But on my way back to Fargo, the sight of the raging Sheyenne River reminded me of the work that lies ahead. In late summer prairie rivers aren't supposed to be in flood. The fauna they sustain and the plant communities they drain evolved with and require seasonal drought. But with all the plowed potholes, polluted runoff shoots directly into Devil's Lake, the state's largest natural water body, and thence into the Sheyenne via overflow outlets. In 1993 the lake covered 44,230 acres. Since then it has more than quadrupled in surface area, devastating ecosystems all the way to the Red River--flooding and eroding grasslands, riparian forests, and 161,000 acres of cropland, at a cost to the state's economy of at least $200 million.
Instead of flinging crop-insurance payments at farmers in an effort to compensate for such flood damage (and thereby causing more of it), our federal government should prevent that damage by encouraging wetland and grassland restoration. So should North Dakotans--by voting in the Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks ballot initiative.
This story originally ran in the January-February 2014 issue as "The Edge of Insanity."