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2018 Farm Bill Passed by Congress. . .

Wed, December 12, 2018

Farm Bill Finish Line? Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Spell Out Opportunities for Wildlife

Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s government affairs team conferenced in Washington, D.C. late last night, digging deep into the details of a newly-released, 800-page Farm Bill agreement. Despite budget constraints, major conservation programs translating to on-the-ground wildlife habitat would see improvement pending final passage. In particular, “The Habitat Organization” points to a 27-million-acre Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – an increase of 3 million acres – an expansion of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), and long-term funding for wetland/agricultural easements as earnest upland habitat improvements.

The CRP remains the nation’s most vital and comprehensive upland habitat program, and while modest, the increase in program acreage is magnified with additional details of state-specific CRP allocations that would direct more critical grassland acres to core regions of pheasant and quail country. The VPA-HIP – the only federal program helping to expand hunting and fishing opportunities through partnerships with landowners – increased from $40 million to $50 million, which means an opportunity for states to scale up or launch new public access programs.

“American wildlife and landowners need a Farm Bill in place, and we’re on the precipice of that,” said Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of governmental affairs who has worked with legislators on crafting the Farm Bill since 1992. “Although we’re pleased with the Conservation Title, we are concerned that over the last several Farm Bills, conservation funding and acres have either remained flat, or in cases like CRP acres, reduced. This is the first time CRP acres have increased since the 1996 Farm Bill, and part of that is due to the support of our 140,000 members, volunteers, hunters, farmers and landowners making their voices heard in support of a strengthened CRP.”

Here’s what you need to know about conservation provisions in the new Farm Bill language:

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Acreage cap and funding – Increases CRP acreage from 24 million to 27 million acres by 2023.

Instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to enroll 30 percent of all acres within continuous CRP (8.6M acres total). This includes targeted programs such as States Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), upland CP33 quail buffers, and other practices that benefit wildlife, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. 

Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct routinely scheduled General signups with targeted state-to-state allocations. This is a critical element for adding new acres into the program annually.

A new program called CLEAR 30 will provide a pilot program for a 30-year contract option on the most highly sensitive lands such as buffers, wetlands and riparian areas.

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP)

Reauthorizes funding for VPA-HIP at $50 million over the life of the Farm Bill. This is the most important program of its kind for hunter access nationwide and the only federal program helping to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP):

The percentage of EQIP funds that will benefit wildlife has increased from 5 percent to 10 percent, providing an estimated $200 million per year. This specifically has new opportunities for quail and forest habitat.
The Working Lands for Wildlife Program is expanded and codified in new Farm Bill language to continue work in priority landscapes for multiple species; including quail, sage grouse, lesser prairie chickens, and other wildlife.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)

Provides a funding boost of $2.25 billion over the life of the Farm Bill. This is an important program for long-term and permanent land protection. The high demand for ACEP dollars to create wetland and agricultural easements has far outpaced current demand.
Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP)

Authorizes SHIPP “to assist landowners with conserving and improving soil, water, and wildlife resources” while allowing shorter contracts from 3 to 5 years in the Prairie Pothole Region. The program also increases flexibility for producers to create more early successional grassland habitat for pheasants and other wildlife.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
Expanded and strengthened to include $1.5 billion over the life of the bill to leverage local, state and other non-federal funding sources in order to create and enhance wildlife habitat on private lands.
Sodsaver and Conservation Compliance

These provisions will continue to protect native habitats that include prairie, wetland and forestlands that balance an ecosystem consisting of conservation and agricultural production systems.
Since 2008, CRP has been reduced more than 14 million acres across many states that are considered to be historical strongholds for pheasant and quail populations – the effects have been sobering. However, the new Farm Bill legislation does provide optimism for the future including routinely-scheduled general signups with state allocations, more flexible haying and grazing provisions, and a number of technical changes to rental rates, incentives and cost-share payments.

“We’re hopeful these changes will spur additional interest in conservation, leading to higher enrollment levels in priority landscapes benefitting pheasants, quail and other wildlife,” added Nomsen. “Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever look forward to working closely with USDA to implement on-the-ground acres as quickly as possible.”

About Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 149,000 members and 725 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent; the only national conservation organization that operates through this truly grassroots structure. Since creation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has spent $784 million on 530,000 habitat projects benefiting 17 million acres nationwide.

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Of grouse and woodcock. . .

Sun, November 11, 2018

If you’ve never been grouse and woodcock hunting and live here in Illinois you are missing out.  Within about a 6 hour drive you can be in prime habitat for both in either Wisconsin or Michigan.  Michigan boasts the largest overall harvest of woodcock in the country annually and the second or third highest harvest of grouse.  Wisconsin is top 3-5 in both as well.  I warn you, however—hunting these birds is not for the faint of heart.  This is young man’s hunting, which I no longer consider myself.  That means myself and the dogs paid a bit more than usual this year. . . .

Perhaps the best part about pursuing this quarry is the environment in which they live—absolutely beautiful northwoods filled with bogs, cedar swamps, pine forests, oak flats, aspen cuts, and clear trout streams.  Partner that with fall’s beautiful leaf color change and the ability to walk for days without ever seeing the same cover twice all on public ground—well, it might be heaven for some of us.

This year’s hunt was a challenge as usual.  After all—grouse hunting statistics show an approximately 5% harvest to flush rate.  Grouse tend to flush wild and are awesome at getting a tree or two between you and them before flushing.  They are not tolerant of dogs that press them.  I’ve historically found them early around berry bushes (honeysuckle and dogwood in particular) as well as acorn flats and then later in 15 year old or so aspen stands.  Grouse breasts are white meat and they are every bit as good, if not better, than pheasant. 

Woodcock have about a 20% harvest to flush rate and hold really well for pointing dogs—one of the many reasons I love to hunt them so much. I find them mostly in low, moist ground with open forest floor so they can find worms and walk about.  10 year old or younger aspen with interspersed alders are generally winners—as long as you have a good migration of birds.  They tend to migrate and appear in areas overnight with a good cold front/storm front.  I’ve hunted an area one day and then hit the same area the day after a storm front and the spot was absolutely loaded with them.  They are a neat looking bird with a long, movable beak for moving around in the mud searching for worms.  They have dark meat breasts about the size of a large dove that is generally not good when eaten without marinade; however, if you marinate them in mesquite over night and then add bacon wrap while grilling people will pick them out over many other generally better tasting game animal meat.  Try it—you won’t be disappointed.

This year’s hunt in Michigan was awesome in so many ways.  We hunted over 3 different drahthaars of varying ages.  From 3 to 12.  The old man did a great job working his old nemesis Mr. Bogsucker (woodcock) and stuck numerous points on them.  The middle dog hammered point after point and retrieve after retrieve on both birds and the young dog figured a lot out this his first year chasing these two birds.  The first two days were tough going with bird numbers low and hunter numbers high in our chose public spots.  Day 3 was following a storm front and it resulted in a 3 man limit of woodcock (we probably flushed 30 or more) and a couple grouse.  What a way to finish a great several days in the great outdoors. There were many lessons learned by us and the dogs.  One that will stick in all of our minds involves the subtleties of pulling porcupine quills out of a dog’s face, shoulders, and legs.  Two of our dogs took direct hits.  Luckily we were prepared with a pair of pliers.  With over 100 quills to pull, they were essential.  Most of the quills could not possibly be pulled out by hand and several of them broke off under the skin.  After a call with a local vet we learned that the ones under the skin will find their way out on their own generally and no emergency vet trip was needed.  I still think I’d rather the dog take a porcupine hit over a skunk!

Before I go let me plug a product that finally saved my feet from pain and agony (not to mention forcing me to leave the woods due to cold feet. I’ve tried it all—huge heavy boots, socks of all types, battery socks, heated insoles, and none have provided me with consistently warm feet—until now.  Flambeau made a Li-ion battery sock that works for 6 hours (on low setting).  I tested them multiple times with a pair of wool socks over top of them and a pair of 400 gram leather boots at temperatures down to 10 degrees.  Not even a hint of cold feet.  This is seriously a game changer for me.  Cold feet have been a serious issue since I started venturing outdoors as a young man.  Get a pair!

On another, similar note, the best I can do for cold hands (also a serious problem for me) have been a midweight pair of gloves and hot hands in a waterfowl muff or pockets for archery in dry conditions.  For wet conditions, I found that the Seirus heat liner gloves inside of the Glacier Bay waterproof rubber gloves are pretty incredible for waterfowl and archery in wet conditions. 

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Sun Foundation

Tue, September 11, 2018

If you’ve never heard of the Sun Foundation here in central Illinois then I will tell you my friend, you are missing out on an incredible organization.  They have been here in central Illinois for over 40 years, educating and enriching young people’s lives with hands on educational events. From the ever-popular Arts and Science in the Woods summer camp to the annual Clean Water Celebration that is host to thousands of students in central Illinois each year at the Civic Center.  Not to mention many incredible and unique fundraising events that are all worth attending.  If you don’t know anything about them please visit their website and consider donating by attending a fundraising event or donating outright.  These programs are more likely something progressive enough that you might find in the Chicago area not here in central Illinois.  Bob and Joan Ericksen—the founders, are incredible people that have opened up their land and home to so many world-renown scientists and artists. Please visit their website to learn more.  I know that as soon as my son is old enough, he will be attending their summer camp adventure!

http://sunfoundation.org/sun2/

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