- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Did you know that the U.S. government pays American farmers and ranchers to set aside land, let it rest and not use it to grow crops? The program is known as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which to the uninitiated appears to be a waste of taxpayer money, but that isn’t necessarily so.

The CRPs all across this nation, according to the Ducks Unlimited conservation organization, have proved valuable for waterfowl and wildlife production, particularly in the Prairie Pothole Region, which is believed to be the best waterfowl breeding area in the world.

With that in mind, a number of DU representatives last week met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, Deputy Secretary Chuck Conner and officials of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to discuss what DU believes are problems facing the land conservation programs.

The fear is that during the current energy crisis, farmers will be urged to grow crops to be converted into biofuels, at the same time driving up land prices and forcing farmers to weigh the dollar amount offered for a CRP vs. the money that could be made if they jumped into the biofuel pool.

Said DU’s executive vice president, former Congressman Don Young: “We wanted to be sure that the Secretary and the White House knew of the science proving the effectiveness of CRP for wildlife and the risks to wildlife involved with the consequences of biofuels driving up rural land prices. We urged the Administration to ensure a level playing field by keeping the funds offered to farmers for CRP participation competitive with other market factors.”

After hearing certain facts about current CRP economics, Johanns directed the Farm Service Agency to ensure rental rates for CRP applicants are fair and reflect the land rental market.

Young said he was glad to see Johanns’ directive would ensure landowners would not need to plow lands not really suited for row crop production and that such acreage will remain to benefit wildlife.

DU says if the CRPs decline greatly in the Prairie Pothole Region, it would severely impact wildlife with a possible annual reduction of 2.2 million ducks and 13.5 million pheasants. This potential loss of duck production equals the total waterfowl harvest of the entire Atlantic Flyway.

Natural Resources cops score — Sport anglers sometimes complain that the Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) don’t do enough policing when it comes to commercial fish netters. That may not be true. At the end of the rockfish drift gill net season in the Chesapeake Bay last month, the NRP worked up and down the bay and confiscated a number of illegal gill nets and nearly 450 pounds of rockfish and charged nine individuals with fishing violations during the last two months of a three-month season.

Close to home, in Calvert County, the NRP charged Francis Donald Eastridge, 47, of Chesapeake Beach with setting and fishing a monofilament gill net and fishing/maintaining on his vessel a drift gill net of more than 600 yards. The NRP also charged John Robert Abner, 33, of Chesapeake Beach, with the same violation, plus harvesting striped bass for commercial purposes without an allocation card in possession.

Other charges were lodged against netters from Rock Hall to Tilghman Island, usually for possession of illegal rockfish or not being in possession of the proper licenses and allocation cards.

Maryland youth wins essay contest — Matthew Dlabich,14, of Chester, Md., took first place in the National Rifle Association Civil Right Defense Fund’s annual essay contest. This year’s theme was “The Second Amendment to the Constitution: Why it is important to our nation.” The essay competition celebrates the Second Amendment as an integral part of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The contest was open to all students enrolled in an elementary, junior high or high school. More than 900 entries were received. In the senior category, first place went to Sunjay K. Gorawara, 16, of Buffalo Grove, Ill. Dlabich won the junior category. Both boys won $1,000. Good show all around.

Meeting on reef plan — The Maryland Fisheries Service will conduct a public meeting Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. to review the final draft of the Maryland Artificial Reef Plan (check out www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/reefs/MDReefPlanFinalDraft.pdf). The meeting will be held in the C-1 Conference Room of the Tawes State Office Building in Annapolis. For more information, call fisheries ecologist Martin L. Gary at 410/260-8289 (office).

• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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