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SCOTT RALL COLUMN: It's time for the tough to get going

WORTHINGTON -- When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I wonder who can be credited for that saying?

If you are like me, life has a way of never letting you get too comfortable. When I get just enough money saved up to acquire my non-necessary desired purchase, the truck breaks down and costs $1,500. Then, it's back to the savings drawing board to start all over again.

In the hey-days of the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers across the nation to idle marginal lands in favor of grass cover, pheasants were everywhere. Iowa challenged South Dakota for the highest total pheasant harvest and Minnesota had the best hunting I have ever experienced close to home.

CRP started more than 25 years ago and, at its inception, one of its goals was to reduce the supply of grain commodities in order to increase grain prices. CRP helped many producers at the time with income guaranteed on even their least productive lands.

CRP evolved into much more. As it did, reducing wind and water soil erosion, reducing flooding and providing better habitat for all wildlife all became part of the CRP equation.

Today, even providing pollinator habitat for bees can be part of your CRP contract. As this program developed, wildlife across the nation thrived.

Pheasants Forever, for the past 30 years, has campaigned hard for the type of federal farm policies that not only help pheasants, but land and water, as well.

At the peak of CRP, there were more than 30 million acres enrolled. Today, the only outlook for CRP is a dismal one.

Contracts that usually last 10 to 15 years are expiring and very few of those acres are being re-enrolled. Many contracts cannot be re-enrolled, even if the producer wants to, as there have not been general CRP sign ups available for them to utilize.

Don't get me wrong, there are very few producers who would re-enroll in CRP today, even if they could, when they look at the balance sheet of corn and bean production compared to the meager CRP conservation payment.

As the number of CRP acres on the landscape declines, so do all wildlife populations in lock step.

Waterfowl numbers are at all-time highs due to adequate CRP and wet springs, but this cannot be sustained in future years as undisturbed grassland acres go under the plow.

Ducks need four acres of grass for every acre of water and even with all the water in world, no grass means no ducks.

Water seems to be as scarce as undisturbed grasslands for the immediate future.

So, as Pheasants Forever celebrates its 30th anniversary this weekend at the Minneapolis Convention Center, it is with a great amount of excitement overshadowed, or at least muted, by the glum future for wildlife across North America.

As competition heats up for crop production verses wildlife habitat, the future of wildlife is going to come with great challenges.

Minnesota has the Land and Legacy Amendment that provides about $80 million per year to spend on Minnesota habitat. We should have at least a 50-50 chance to balance the tide of habitat loss.

There is little chance to actually gain acres. For every acre of habitat acquired there is at least one acre or more of habitat lost.

Last year, the LSOHC funded Pheasants Forever with enough money to acquire 3,000 acres of habitat statewide. Stack that up against the loss of tens of thousands of lost CRP acres and the balance is not heading in the right direction. The effects are going to be felt to a much larger extent in counties other than Nobles.

Nobles County was never a CRP hotspot. Nearby counties stand to lose many more habitat acres than we will. This all has to do with how much habitat you started with.

Some nearby counties, like Lincoln, had approximately 11 percent of all lands in grass at one time. Nobles County has about 3 percent of all lands in grass. When you start with less, you have less to lose.

When you start with very few habitat acres, the loss of even one parcel magnifies the loss because there is so little to lose. For wildlife and the people who care and nourish it, there is a very steep hill out on the horizon.

Pheasants Forever is a national organization committed to the preservation of these habitats, and the education of the next generation of those who will all-too-soon fill the shoes occupied by conservationists today.

Pheasant Fest runs today, Saturday and Sunday at the Minneapolis Convention Center and is the equivalent of Valley Fair for hunters and other outdoor lovers. Check out the Pheasants Forever website for the full agenda of seminars and other entertainment that the weekend is filled with.

I have never missed a national Pheasants Forever event and I hope I can someday make the same claim the VISA credit card guy makes when he says he has been to 50 consecutive Super Bowls.

Pheasant Fest is the Super Bowl of outdoor gatherings. If you have already been, then it's time to go again. If you have never been then this would be a great first time. Membership in Pheasants Forever is the greatest leverage you can get for $35. They will keep up the pressure to protect, maintain and preserve habitat across the nation.

I am really glad they are doing it because there has never been a more important time.

The past decades of high pheasant populations and a bright future of wildlife gave us all the feeling that we were on a course to long term success. This period might even have lead conservation leaders to let down their guard a little. Just like a truck breakdown, life changed all that almost overnight with $10,000 per acre land and corn at $8 per bushel.

The challenges have never been greater, but it's times like these that the tough get going. I am going to do my part to help find a balance that can include pheasants, meadow larks and other wildlife living alongside a successful ag operation.

In order to succeed, it will take everyone on both sides working together. It might be difficult but it can be done.

Scott Rall is The Daily Globe's outdoor columnist. His column can also be read weekly at