Draft environmental assessment, draft land protection plan for proposed Dakota Grassland Conservation Area show marked bias against agriculture, rely on outdated information, North Dakota agriculture commissioner says

BISMARCK, North Dakota , July 26, 2011 (press release) – Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring says a draft environmental assessment (EA) and draft land protection plan (LPP) for the proposed Dakota Grassland Conservation Area (DGCA) show a marked bias against agriculture and rely on outdated information.

“The statements made against agriculture are troublesome,” Goehring said in a letter to the Division of Refuge Planning of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “I believe these statements are biased, and the documents fail to recognize agriculture’s many benefits to wildlife.”

Goehring pointed to a statement in the EA draft that claimed “grassland conversion rates will undoubtedly accelerate with increasing prices for cereal grains and low cattle numbers.”

“Crop prices have risen in the recent past, however, farmers and ranchers make a living based on profit margins,” Goehring said. “Input costs for agriculture have risen at a similar rate as commodity prices, squeezing out any large profit margin.”

Goehring said the draft EA recognizes that the beef cowherd declined 11.3 percent from 1996 to 2010, but failed to mention that beef cow carcass weight has increased by 8.6 percent in that period, consequently requiring more pasture to produce a cow-calf pair.

Goehring said the research and studies used in the drafts are outdated and should be ignored.

“For example, the draft EA relies on 1985 and 1988 studies that claim some duck species avoid nesting in cropland, and nesting success in cropland is not sufficient to sustain population,” he said. “Production practices have changed greatly since then. We now use conservation production practices like no-till and minimum-till which leave more residue on the land.”

Goehring also pointed to the use of a 20-year-old study on the effects of pesticides on wildlife.

“That study mentions the impact of carbofuran on ducks and geese, but the EPA virtually banned the use of carbofuran in most crop production in 2009,” he said. “It is a non-issue.”

Goehring said USFWS’s own 2011 Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey showing the second highest number of ducks since 1955 completely refutes the federal agency’s argument that agriculture has had a negative impact to waterfowl production.

The commissioner said USFWS should look at short-term agreements with landowners for wildlife conservations purposes.

“We are borrowing this land from future generations, our children, and we should not tie their hands through perpetual easements,” he said. “Perpetual easements emplace barriers and restrictions that do not allow the agriculture community to adapt to the needs of society when it comes to the production of food, feed, and fiber.”

The Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area would take $588 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to buy easements on more than 240,000 acres of wetlands and 1.7 million acres of privately-owned grasslands in North Dakota, South Dakota, and eastern Montana.


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