Say Anything Blog: Ethanol May Be A Bigger Problem For Conservationists Than Oil?

September 24, 2013

Rob Port, September 23 – North Dakota is going to have a red hot debate over conservation as signatures are collected for a second statewide conservation fund fueled with millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars. Groups like Ducks Unlimited, unsatisfied with a $30 million/biennium conservation fund established by the legislature, want a fund that has more money and less political oversight (that this proposed fund could also funnel money to groups like Ducks Unlimited shouldn’t be discounted).

Normally, when this issue is discussed, it’s the impact of the state’s oil boom that is credited as inspiring this need for conservation, but as this Washington Post article points out, it’s the state’s agriculture boom that may be a larger threat (at least in the eyes of the conservationists).

It’s worth remembering, after all, that oil and agriculture are now neck-and-neck as North Dakota’s largest industries.

“While North Dakota’s oil bonanza has garnered national attention, its farming boom is transforming the state’s landscape just as dramatically. Nebraska and four other states in the Great Plains prairie pothole region — called that because of its thousands of shallow wetlands — lost 1.3 million acres of grasslands between 2006 and 2011, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The region is being transformed “at a rate and scale not seen since the Dust Bowl,” said Eric Lindstrom, government affairs representative for Ducks Unlimited, a wetlands-conservation group.
Lindstrom and other wildlife advocates are concerned because a range of animals, including waterfowl, several grouse species, mule deer and even bees, need abundant grasslands and wetlands to thrive. Three-quarters of the ducks hunted in the United States come from the prairie pothole region, while imperiled species, from the lesser prairie chicken to the greater sage grouse, depend on this habitat to survive.

But ranchers and farmers are increasingly opting out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays landowners not to develop parts of their property for 15 years. Its level of compensation — about $40 an acre — can’t compete with the $60 or $65 an acre owners can get for renting their land for crops.”

Farmers are farming their land instead of being paid not to farm? The horror. All joking aside, though, this is a serious matter. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that more farm land is being put into production, despite the cries of conservationists, it may be a bad thing if it’s happening because of a bubble in the ag markets.