Habitat and Hope: Why CRP Matters So Much

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Conservation Reserve Program signups are happening right now. Here’s why CRP is so important, and what you can do to help.

Story and Photos By Tom Carpenter, Editor at Pheasants Forever

I am old enough to remember a landscape that produced my beloved pheasants, prairie songbirds and other grassland wildlife without the help of CRP. 

I am young enough that as a youngster I got to see pheasant country in its Soil Bank heydays. What I would give to go back to such days, if only for a day, and experience it with a shotgun in hand, a little Brittany at my side and the promise of a rooster … or maybe a dozen of them … hiding in the cover ahead.

But the realities of a world to feed and livings to be made altered rural landscapes forever.

The Soil Bank’s child, CRP, has since its inception ebbed and flowed with rural economies as a way to make marginal or unproductive lands financially sustainable as habitat that grows wildlife, improves soil, filters water, provides income for landowners … and makes lives better.

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I hunted in Illinois in November. What a treat. It felt like the olden days, at times, such were the roosters I saw (quail too, down in Montgomery County) and the landscapes Lark and I walked with new friends.

Alongside conservation-minded landowners, it was all thanks to CRP and related Farm Bill programs, and the work of our organization having a key hand in implementing those acres.

I walked Iroquois County fields where waves of birds rose ahead of us into the setting sun while whitetails bounded away. I hunted a Ford County farmstead where tens of thousands of monarch butterflies had passed through and nectared on autumn wildflowers on their journey south in September, and where bobolinks had nested in spring. My heart stopped at the magic of long-tailed roosters rising ahead of each of Lark’s points in a hundred acres of November wildflower stems in McLean County.

It could have been anywhere there is CRP. 

Such is the magic of CRP, a boon for wildlife and for people everywhere and anywhere it is found, from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, westward through the Dakotas into Colorado, Montana and Washington, and south into Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

CRP works. Everywhere. And for everyone. What’s your tie to CRP?

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If you’re a hunter, it’s habitat where there probably wouldn’t otherwise be -- places to hunt. Many public access programs are tied to the habitat created by CRP and other Farm Bill programs.

If you’re a farmer, it’s income for acres that might otherwise prove marginal for crop production – a place for soil to regenerate, wildlife to move in … and some income to generate. 

If you’re an owner of recreational land, it’s a way to put wildlife habitat on the landscape while maybe helping make the payment and enjoying a place to hunt and recreate … and share.

For rural America, CRP brings families together for hunting season and fills Main Street with blaze orange come autumn.

Pheasants Forever’s Farm Bill Biologists stand ready to help you or someone you know sign up for CRP for the first time, or renew a contract. Eight -- yes 8 -- million of acres of habitat is at stake through new signups as well as contracts that could renew.

The signup is open through February 28, 2020, and you can learn about other program details here.

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As the sun raked in low and orange on our last evening in The Prairie State, Lark and I walked alone through a final patch of CRP on the Bleich Farm in Ford County – golden bluestem and browned wildflowers that altogether smelled of November and sweetness and pungency all at once. 

A combine harvested corn next door, and it wasn’t a surprise, but of course was, when Lark locked up and a virtual covey of roosters began rising in succession.

I made the old mistake of emptying my gun at a marginal bird before cockbirds began rising closer to me and I had the sense to jam one more shell in as one last-chance rooster arced over us and I thought an instantaneous prayer -- both of thanks for CRP and for a string of 6-shot connecting -- that must have been heard somewhere because soon we were kneeling there with a feathered jewel in hand and the sun on the horizon, hoping it would continue setting and then rising again on places like this across pheasant country. 

Habitat and hope.

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