Changes in CRP lands and the impact on upland game

Hunting a Brittany in a CRP field in Southeastern Idaho
Folks in the Midwest know what a boon the Conservation Reserve Program has been to upland game populations, especially pheasants.  However, I don’t think many of us here in the Intermountain West really understand what it has done for our upland game populations and subsequent hunting opportunities. CRP is authorized by the Farm Bill and pays rent to farmers who leave acreage fallow for conservation benefit. The original intent was primarily the protection of soil from erosion, with secondary benefits to wildlife.
In northern Utah and southern Idaho over the last ten years CRP has been a major factor in sharp-tailed grouse and pheasant populations.  With recent changes to the Federal Farm Bill program and many of the enrolled parcels 10-year contract expiring this year, there will be some major changes on the landscape.
I heard the alarming news that something like 30,000 acres will come out of the CRP program in Oneida County (SE Idaho) alone. These lands will go back into either crop production or cattle grazing lands. I don’t have a problem with either land use on private land, but neither is as productive for sharp-tailed grouse or pheasants. This past February, the Secretary of Agriculture (Tom Vilsack) announced that a re-enrollment for CRP lands expiring in September would take place this year. This is a first since 2006. The enrollment would cover 4-million acres. It is unclear how many farms in southeastern Idaho will be eligible and will re-enroll property.  I think bird hunters will be alarmed over the next few years with what happens to upland game populations as land comes out of the CRP program and goes back into ag production.

Pheasants Forever has been at the forefront of the political lobbying effort to help wildlife populations through government farm programs. It will be important to watch how political changes to broad Federal programs impact our favorite bird hunting spot and local and regional bird numbers. Watch and see, we are in for some changes.