This past summer my Beyond the Classroom experience was spent doing an internship helping a PhD student conduct an ongoing research study on the effects of juniper removal on sage grouse distribution in Lake County, Oregon. As part of my Wildlife Biology curriculum, I wrote a ten-page research paper addressing the effects of energy development on sage grouse (which have the potential for listing under the Endangered Species Act) using primary literature. The issue fits into my Global Leadership Initiative theme of sustainability. While my experience and research was helpful, I think continuing to follow the issue is important at a local and national level. I will use these blog entries to share and express my thoughts on some of the articles and information I run across while following the issue.
The article above was printed in the Great Falls Tribune on February 4, 2014. It discusses the effects of a proposed “sodsaver” provision in the farm bill. Under the farm bill, the government pays about 62 percent of crop insurance premiums, which helps ensure farmers keep their way of living economically in case of a bad season. In areas where the government pays significantly less of a percentage for insurance premiums, farmers are much more unlikely to cultivate land for crops.
The sodsaver provision is, you could say, an amendment to the farm bill. This amendment will change the farm bill to cover only about 15 percent instead of 65 percent insurance premiums on crops if the crops are cultivated on virgin prairies in six states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Virgin prairies are those that have never been cultivated. This does not prevent farmers from cultivating these lands, it will only make it more risky because the insurance will be put up privately.
If you read the rest of the article and the following fact sheet you will see why I think the sodsaver provision is a logical move.
Even after seeing the economical savings and ecological importance, someone may ask, well, what about the farmers? As the article above also states, the high price of commodities is driving farmers to cultivate more and more land. But, virgin prairies that haven’t been cultivated, haven’t been cultivated for a reason. They aren’t very successful. So, in my mind, I ask: Why get minimal amount of crop while you’re destroying land? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons farmers could give me and I understand. I really do. I’ve seen the amount of work people put in when they live off the land and it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. But ruining a habitat for minimal profit doesn’t sound like the moral thing to do. It also isn’t a very efficient use of taxpayer money. With that said, I’ll bring in sage grouse.
Currently, the biggest threat to sage grouse is habitat loss to energy development and crop cultivation. In these states, the revised farm bill will decrease potential cultivation, and in this case sage grouse habitat loss. Not only will the sodsaver provision help sage grouse but also preserve grazing lands for cattle, which helps the ranching community. I think the provision is a great compromise between economics and conservation. It should show as an example for future legislation.
So far, the revised farm bill has passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. I would love to see it passed as a proactive step forward by the federal government.