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Iowa pheasants have enjoyed a good two-year run of milder winters leading to the highest bird numbers since 2008, but that run of good luck can’t last forever. Weather and habitat are keys to bird survival and over the last eight years Iowa has lost 500,000 acres of CRP statewide. “We’re trying to keep as many CRP acres as we can,” said Todd Bogenschutz, upland game bird biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Land in CRP is often cyclical - removed when crop prices are high and enrolled when prices are low. With corn prices in the mid-$3 range, Bogenschutz expects to see more interest in the program. A general CRP signup is expected in December will have around 24 million acres available nationally, down from 32 million acres from previous signups, meaning landowners will likely need to higher environmental benefits scores and have better cover types to get their offers accepted. While the general CRP signup is a few months away, existing Continuous CRP programs have been filling up. “We filled our initial 50,000 acre of Pheasant SAFE, received an additional 14,000 acres that we have filled and are waiting to hear if our request for another 16,000 acres will be approved.
Continuous SAFE signups are going well with a lot of landowners wanting to reenroll. Gaining Ground SAFE has about 43,000 acres left of the original 75,000, so we are seeing more interest in the programs,” Bogenschutz said.
Gaining Ground targets private land that is within a three mile radius of public areas 40 acres or larger. The forbs and grasses seed mixes benefit grassland birds and food plots are allowed, but not required. There is a 90 percent cost share and signing bonus. Pollinator Practice targeting bees and monarchs and benefiting pheasants also has acres available. The DNR has resources available to landowners at www.iowadnr.gov/habitat. “These programs are putting better habitat on the ground in more targeted areas,” Bogenschutz said. “There is no one silver bullet that works everywhere but we are better off having more habitat on the ground than less and may see a boost in our pheasant numbers from what the landowners have already done.” For more information on general or continuous CRP programs contact the local USDA office or local DNR private lands biologist www.iowadnr.gov/privatelands.