Northern Great Plains Grassland and Wetland Habitat Falls to the Plow

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.

By Ted Williams
Published: January-February 2014

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."

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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

It's time to look at the real

It's time to look at the real facts:

- According to EPA’s latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory, no new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005 and grassland sequestered 14% more carbon in 2011 (latest data available) than in 1990.

- Current law strictly prohibits the conversion of sensitive ecosystems to cropland. The provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) require that corn and other feedstocks used to produce renewable fuels for RFS may only be sourced from land that was actively engaged in agricultural production in 2007, the year of the bill's enactment. Feedstocks grown on land converted to cropland after 2007 would not qualify as “renewable biomass,” and therefore biofuels produced from these feedstocks would not generate RIN credits for the RFS.

- On a per-bushel basis, nitrogen fertilizer use is down 29% since 1985. Phosphate and potash use are down 36% and 49%, respectively.

-Contrary to the rhetoric of biofuel opponents, corn production for ethanol is not leading to increased deforestation or hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Deforestation in the Amazon has steadily fallen since 2004, hitting the lowest point on record in 2012. The hypoxic “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico has steadily gotten smaller since 2001. In 2012, the hypoxic zone was the smallest it had been in 12 years.

- Today’s corn ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 34% compared to petroleum—even when hypothetical land use change emissions are included.

- Every 1 BTU of energy invested in the corn ethanol production process results in the production of 2.3 BTUs of usable energy in the form of fuel ethanol.

Renewable Fuels Association
Washington DC

Both parties are guilty of

Both parties are guilty of allowing this to happen. If the oil companies were not forced to use ethanol a lot of the corn planting would not take place. The EPA in its infinite wisdom is finally starting to relax this requirement but it is too little too late. And the Obama people don't really care or they would be on the EPA in a hurry.

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