CRP Offers Wildlife Benefits and Improves Water Quality - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

CRP Offers Wildlife Benefits and Improves Water Quality

SIGOURNEY (IA DNR) - Hot muggy summer weather now is only a few months on either side of last winter's extra heavy snow...and whatever lies ahead this winter. There was alarm raised late last winter, as pheasant and other wildlife losses mounted, in areas with long-lasting snow cover and sub-freezing temperatures.

Then and now, the best solution was - is - better year-round habitat. Larry and Sheila Gould, of Sigourney, can watch the payoff right from their backyard. "We discussed putting this 80 acres into the Conservation Reserve Program," recalls Gould. "For the wildlife, too, but for our benefit; to look out over the ground."

Working with Jason Gritsch, private lands biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, they put together a plan.

"I had a cost share program for them, where we could convert this farm from short brome grass to a tall grass prairie area with wild flowers," explains Gritsch. "We did that with tree planting along the creek corridor and basically converted this into 80 acres of wildlife habitat."

Row crops border the Gould property on the east and west, but they share their south fence line with Belva Deer Lake county park. And the wildlife? "Pheasants, quail and deer; all the butterflies; the songbirds and hawks and other wildlife this attracts," lists Larry Gould.

CRP acreage has been shrinking in the last few years. There has been no general signup since 2006. Each year, as another round of 10-year contracts expired, Iowa has seen 100,000 to 200,000 acres 'coming out' of CRP. Most went back into row-crop production. However, the USDA just announced a general CRP signup will begin on Aug. 2 and continue through Aug. 27. Wildlife officials hope to at least 'break even' returning or replacing contracts on the 114,000 acres of CRP contracts which expire September 30. The DNR created a webpage at to help with the signup process.

CRP allows a rental payment to the landowner who idles their land. CRP practices reduce soil loss and water runoff from the often marginal terrain. That improves water quality and also creates excellent year-round wildlife cover.

More 'points'--to determine whether the parcel is accepted--are awarded for specific conservation practices. Among them are tree planting or native grass seeding, as the Goulds established. It not something you incorporate and then walk away from, either. "There's a lot of maintenance involved; management of it," concedes Gould. "My son helps me; Jason has been a big help. But I love doing that sort of thing."

"We killed the brome, then (seeded) the tall grass mixture with wildflowers," says Gritsch, gesturing to the grassy hillside, dotted with wildflowers and butterflies. In the first year, they mowed it back once or twice. Controlled burns in the next couple years kept the desired native species coming back. "The burns really made a difference; getting us to that early succession stage for maximum wildlife production," says Gritsch. "The forbs (wild flowers) attract insects, which songbirds, pheasants and quail depend on."

It is ongoing, too. Gould pointed out a patch of foxtails, below the house. "In the spring, we'll mow firebreaks and burn that with a controlled burn. Beyond that, the tall, snow and wind resistant CRP planting provides critical winter cover for wildlife and erosion control," he said.

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