SIOUX FALLS, S.D. Pheasants once drew hundreds of weekend hunters to Fairbury, Neb., each fall, filling the 45 rooms at Randy Brown's Capri Motel with sportsmen eager to bag their limits. But times have changed. The native grasslands and milo crops that used to dot surrounding Jefferson County have been overtaken by corn and soy crops.
Neither provides the shelter that wildlife once enjoyed. This year's opener drew just two rooms of out-of-state hunters to the Capri, one of many businesses indirectly affected as farmers move to meet the nation's demand for biofuel.
"We don't have the habitat we had 20 years ago," said Brown, owner of the motel near the Nebraska-Kansas border.
The U.S. Conservation Reserve Program, which pays landowners not to farm their property, has been a boon to wildlife. Since its creation in 1985, it has boosted populations of ducks, ring-necked pheasants, prairie chickens, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and other wildlife by providing areas where they can feed and reproduce.
"Everything's against the pheasants right now." Since the government began requiring oil companies to add billions of gallons of ethanol to their gasoline each year, the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska have lost 2.8 million acres from the conservation reserve program, as farmers planted nearly 10 million more acres of corn, the main feedstock used to produce ethanol.
About 5 million other acres are now included in other conservation programs, but nearly all that land is being actively farmed.So, we have slicers and dicers killing golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, migratory ducks, and whooping cranes, and the ethanol program decimating pheasants, prairie chickens, and grouse. Where are the Poppers? Where is Jane Nielson? Where is the Sierra Club?