Sen. John Thune
If you asked someone to name their favorite time of year, you might hear Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. Don’t be surprised, though, if you posed the same question to a South Dakotan and they tell you it’s the third weekend in October – the traditional opening of pheasant season. For many South Dakotans, opening weekend truly is a holiday that brings friends and families together for fun and fellowship, as well as the anticipation of bagging a few pheasants.
To prepare for all that comes with pheasant season, hotels, cafes, hardware and sporting goods stores plan months in advance to accommodate all who come to South Dakota to experience hunting in the “pheasant capital of the world.” After all, pheasant hunting contributes $250 million to South Dakota’s economy. That boost to the economy is important, but without the pheasants, there’s no pheasant hunting, and nothing contributes more to South Dakota’s pheasant population than the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
First authorized during the Reagan presidency in the 1985 farm bill, CRP was created primarily to discourage overproduction of grain and protect marginal land by offering farmers ten-year easements on highly erodible land planted to permanent vegetative cover. Thirty years later, CRP has evolved into a 20+ million acre program that saves millions of tons of soil from erosion and improves water quality every year. I believe South Dakota pheasants would agree that CRP provides some of the best habitat to nest in and raise their young; and South Dakota pheasant hunters would agree that CRP can be one of the best places to flush a wily rooster.
Not only does CRP provide farmers a sound economic alternative to placing expensive seed, fertilizer, and chemicals on high-risk marginal land, but CRP’s nearly 930,000 acres of wildlife habitat in South Dakota also contribute greatly to rural economies by producing pheasants, deer, turkeys, waterfowl, and nongame wildlife species.
On December 23, 2015, CRP will celebrate its 30th anniversary. Having served on the House Agriculture Committee and now the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have helped draft three farm bills, which cover nearly half of CRP’s lifespan, and I have made certain in each farm bill that CRP continues to offer sound economic, environmental, and wildlife benefits. CRP plays a significant role in the success of South Dakota’s rural economy, and I am not only grateful for what CRP does, but also for the farmers who enroll in the program and provide the wildlife habitat so our hunting traditions can continue for many years to come.