Daily Archives: September 15, 2012

Why the Farm Bill is Huge News for Hunters and Fishermen

by Hal Herring

We got a close haircut with a pair of sheep shears, our shiny boots and new blue jeans are gone, but we can still dance pretty well.

The Senate has passed a version of the Farm Bill that, in a time of crushing deficit, hunters and fishermen can at least live with. Conservation programs took a hit, losing $6 billion in funding. You say “Farm Bill” to most people and you’ll see their eyelids slowly start to close. But whether we recognize it or not, what’s in the Farm Bill, and what gets funded or cut, is of vital importance to hunting and fishing. A lot of what is there makes up the backbone of what we know as American conservation.

One of the hardest losses was the reduction in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 32 million acres to a cap of 25 million. That’s a tough one for bird and waterfowl hunters, especially in the Midwest, where high prices for corn and other grains are encouraging farmers to bring land into production that for the past few decades might have been important nesting and security cover, not to mention places for us to hunt. There are currently 29 million acres enrolled in CRP, so we are looking at a loss of at least 4 million acres, maybe more since crop prices, driven up by the ethanol subsidies and 7 billion very hungry human beings, are expected to remain at record highs and CRP is, of course, a voluntary program–if you can make more money farming your ground than enrolling it in CRP, you farm it.

Yes, we’ll see losses in hunting. But the more important losses will be at a systemic level that will also affect fishing. CRP was designed to keep farmers from having to raise crops on marginal lands subject to erosion, to keep streams and rivers from silting up, and to keep fertilizer from running off and poisoning watersheds. It is an incentive for private property owners to not ruin or lose our most precious resources–soil and water. The wildlife benefits have been incredible, but the core mission was clear and simple: long-term basic economic preservation. We’re backing off on that right now, chasing that short-term dollar, and that’s going to cost us.

What was preserved for conservation in the Farm Bill is significant, because it makes a statement that yes, we do understand that conserving basic resources and investing in conservation is an economic necessity. “The real investments in conservation survived,” said Julie Sibbing, who works on Farm Bill issues for the National Wildlife Federation. “We fought hard, and we have major victories in protecting wetlands, grasslands, and erosion-prone croplands. I’d say we did the best we could, and got the best we could get in the climate at this time.”

One of the most interesting new twists in the Farm Bill is the linking of federal crop insurance payments to conservation practices on farmlands. Steve Kline of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership,  explains it like this: “Here in the U.S., we long ago accepted that the federal government has to be involved in crop insurance- the private insurance sector can’t afford to insure farmers in a region where, say, a drought might cause catastrophic losses for every farm. They’d never make a profit, and even if private insurance was available, no farmer could afford it. So the federal government subsidizes that, in part to make sure that we always have enough to eat. Farmers say they can’t operate without it. But we don’t want to use the taxpayers’ money to subsidize a farmer to destroy wetlands or plant land that will erode and drain fertilizer into a river. If you are going to get the subsidy, it has to be tied into something that will produce a value for the taxpayers that are providing the money.”

The program is called Conservation Compliance, and it ties federal crop insurance to the larger conservation picture. It is furiously opposed by the Corn Growers Association and other lobbyists who, apparently, would prefer to have the taxpayer money and offer nothing in return. Some more information on the new insurance plan and other subsidies included in the new Farm Bill is at Agriculture.com.

As it emerges from the tempest of the U.S. Senate, the Farm Bill is the best that we could hope for and it still faces a tough fight in the House, which has been dismissive of conservation issues lately.

2012 Upland Bird Forecast Online

While some areas of central, northcentral, and northwest Kansas may offer some good hunting, drought and heat have reduced bird numbers

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT) has released its 2012 Kansas Upland Bird Forecast, and because of continued drought, the state will likely experience a below-average upland bird season this fall. Kansas upland bird hunters experienced a down season in 2011, and this summer’s heat and drought in parts of the state have not improved upland bird prospects for 2012. For those willing to hunt hard, there will still be pockets of fair bird numbers, especially in the northern Flint Hills and northcentral and northwestern parts of the state.

Although last winter was mild, winter precipitation is important for spring vegetation, which is critical to reproductive success, and most of Kansas did not get enough winter precipitation. Pheasant breeding populations showed significant reductions in 2012, especially in primary pheasant range in western Kansas. Spring came early and hot this year but also included fair spring moisture until early May, when the precipitation stopped. Then the state experienced record heat and drought through the rest of the reproductive season.

Early nesting conditions were generally good for prairie-chickens and pheasants. However, the primary nesting habitat for pheasants in western Kansas is winter wheat, and in 2012, Kansas had one of the earliest wheat harvests on record. Wheat harvest can destroy nests and very young broods. The early harvest likely lowered pheasant nest- and early-brood success. The intense heat and lack of rain in June and July resulted in decreased brood cover and insect populations, causing lower chick survival for all upland game birds.

Because of drought, all counties in Kansas were opened to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) emergency haying or grazing. Many CRP fields, including Walk In Hunting Areas (WIHA), may be affected. Kansas has more than one million acres of WIHA (atlases available online at ksoutdoors.com or at any license vendor). Often, older stands of CRP grass need disturbance, and haying and grazing can improve habitat for the next breeding season and ultimately be beneficial if weather is favorable.

The regular opening date for the pheasant and quail seasons is Nov. 10 for the entire state. The previous weekend — Nov. 3-4 — is the special youth pheasant and quail season. Youth participating in the special season must be 16 years old or younger and accompanied by a non-hunting adult who is 18 or older. All public wildlife areas and WIHA tracts will be open for public access during the special youth season.


Pheasant breeding populations dropped by nearly 50 percent or more across pheasant range from 2011 to 2012, resulting in fewer adult hens in the population to start the 2012 nesting season. Drought has resulted in less cover and insects needed for good pheasant reproduction. Additionally, winter wheat serves as major nesting habitat for pheasants in western Kansas, and a record early wheat harvest this summer likely destroyed some nests and young broods. Then the hot, dry weather set in from May to August, the primary brood-rearing period for pheasants. Insufficient precipitation and lack of habitat and insects throughout the state’s primary pheasant range resulted in limited production. This will reduce hunting prospects compared to recent years. However, some good opportunities to harvest roosters in the Sunflower State remain, especially for those willing to work for their birds. Though the drought has taken its toll, Kansasstill contains a pheasant population that will produce a harvest in the top three or four major pheasant states this year.

The best areas this year will likely be pockets of northwest and northcentral Kansas. Populations in southwest Kansas were hit hardest by the 2011-2012 drought (72 percent decline in breeding population), and a very limited amount of production occurred this season due to continued drought and limited breeding populations.


The bobwhite breeding population in 2012 was generally stable or improved compared to 2011. Areas in the northern Flint Hills and parts of northeast Kansas experienced improved production this year. Much of eastern Kansas has seen consistent declines in quail populations in recent decades. After many years of depressed populations, this year’s rebound in quail reproduction in eastern Kansas is welcome, but overall populations are still below historic averages. The best quail hunting will be found throughout the northern Flint Hills and parts of central Kansas. Prolonged drought likely impaired production in central and western Kansas.


Kansas is home to greater and lesser prairie-chickens. Both species require a landscape of predominately native grass. Lesser prairie-chickens are found in westcentral and southwesternKansas in native prairie and nearby stands of native grass in CRP. Greater prairie-chickens are found primarily in the tallgrass and mixed-grass prairies in the eastern one-third and northern one-half of the state.

The spring prairie-chicken lek survey indicated that most populations remained stable or declined from last year. Declines were likely due to extreme drought throughout 2011. Areas of northcentral and northwest Kansas fared the best, while areas in southcentral and southwestKansas experienced the sharpest declines where drought was most severe. Many areas in the Flint Hills were not burned this spring due to drought. This resulted in far more residual grass cover for much improved nesting conditions compared to recent years. There have been some reports of prairie-chicken broods in these areas, and hunting will likely be somewhat improved compared to recent years.

Because of recent increases in prairie-chicken (both species) populations in northwestKansas, regulations have been revised this year. The early prairie-chicken season (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) and two-bird bag limit has been extended into northwest Kansas. The northwest unit boundary has also been revised to include areas north of U.S. Highway 96 and west of U.S. Highway 281. Additionally, all prairie-chicken hunters are now required to purchase a $2.50 prairie-chicken permit. This permit will allow KDWPT to better track hunters and harvest, which will improve habitat management practices. Both species of prairie-chicken are of conservation concern, and the lesser prairie-chicken is a candidate species for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

A detailed 2012 Kansas Upland Bird Hunting Forecast is available online at the KDWPT website, ksoutdoors.com. Click “Hunting/Upland Birds/Upland Bird Regional Forecast” for the complete report.

The following table includes the upland bird seasons for 2012. Possession limits are twice the daily bag limits.


Open Dates

Daily Bag (Possession)

Open Areas

Prairie-chicken (Early)

15 Sep. – 15 Oct.


East Unit: East of Hwy 281

NW Unit: North of Hwy 96 and West of Hwy 281

Youth Pheasant

3-4 Nov.



Youth Quail

3-4 Nov.




10 Nov. – 31 Jan.




10 Nov. 31 Jan.




* East and Northwest Units

17 Nov. – 31 Jan.


Excludes area south of Hwy 96 & west of Hwy 281


* Southwest Unit

17 Nov. – 31 Dec.


South of Hwy 96 & west of Hwy. 281

Estimating available grass on Rangeland and CRP

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) along with the Clark, Comanche, and Meade County Conservation Districts, and The Kansas Grazing Land Coalition (KGLC) would like to invite anyone with an interest in learning how to determine forage availability on grasslands to join us Tuesday, September 18th at 9:15am at the USDA service center in Ashland, Kansas.

Once everyone has meet ate the service center, we will drive out to a local ranch and some CRP fields for the “hands on” presentation.  Our featured presenter will be Dwayne Rice, Rangeland Specialist with NRCS.  Dwayne worked out of the NRCS office in Medicine Lodge for 5 years in the late 90s, and has been a Range Specialist with NRCS since 1987.  “He is a great resource that I never get tired of listening to” said Adam Elliott, DC in Ashland.  “Dwayne sees the whole picture, from livestock nutrition management all the way back down how herd management effects the soil and productivity of your grass”.

The presentation will be less than 90 minutes and will be very interactive.  Dwayne will discuss different methods of estimating available forage, including the use of a grazing stick. KGLC will be providing grazing sticks to all who attend.

For more information, contact Adam Elliott at 620.635.2822×3, Bill Barby at 620.873.9700, or visit the Clark County facebook page at:http://www.facebook.com/ClarkCountyConservationDistrict

Recreational trails to receive $2 million in federal funding

Kansas’ recreational trails program will receive $2 million under the federal transportation bill passed by Congress this summer.

“One of our highest priorities is to enhance ecotourism in Kansas, which includes developing a good trail system,” said Robin Jennison, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), which manages the trails program. “This level of funding will allow us to make great strides in the number and quality of trails across our state.”

Federal transportation dollars go to the Kansas Department of Transportation, which then transfers an allocation to KDWPT for the trails program. The federal transportation bill – Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 – had specified $1.3 million for the trails program, but a decision was made to increase the allocation in accordance with new flexibility provisions in MAP-21.

“KDOT and KDWPT worked to come up with a way to prioritize the amount of money that should be applied to recreational trails and determined that $2 million is the appropriate level,” said Transportation Secretary Mike King.

“This will help move ecotourism forward in Kansas.”

Kansas has more than 650 trails totaling more than 2,100 miles in length. KDWPT directly manages trails located on state park, wildlife area or state fishing lake properties. The others are managed by local governments or non-governmental organizations. To locate trails, visit http://maps.kansasgis.org/recfinder/public/index.cfm

Earlier this month, Kansas exercised a provision in the federal transportation bill to “opt out” of the recreational trails program. Exercising that provision simply gave the state maximum flexibility to prioritize the funding. It didn’t eliminate state support for the recreational trails program, which has received about $1.3 million annually in recent years. To have that flexibility option, the state had to “opt out” by Sept. 1.

Kansas will receive $366 million in federal transportation funding for the 2012 federal fiscal year, which is down from the $399 million it received in 2011.