Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Our study of waterfowl is complete and the results are being published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Because of annual variability in populations of grassland birds, biologists at NPWRC will continue to study nongame species for several years. The habitats in CRP fields will mature during those years and permit an assessment of the longer-term effects of the program.
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center is also initiating investigations of the effects of habitat fragmentation on ducks and songbirds that nest in grassland. Most nesting habitat of these species consists of islands of grassland in a vast sea of cropland. The effects of this fragmented habitat on species composition and reproduction are virtually unknown but probably harmful. The many CRP fields of widely varying size offer a good opportunity to examine the effects of field size and isolation on use and reproduction by birds.
Although more research on habitats provided by CRP in the northern Great Plains is needed, early results indicate the tremendous value of restored grasslands to a host of birds that breed in the prairies. The 10-year leases under CRP begin to expire in 1996. At that time, landowners can return their land to cultivation. Whether or not they will do so depends on available alternatives.
Although many farmers have not yet reached a decision, most of those polled in a recent survey in North Dakota intend to return their CRP fields to cultivation. Continuing the CRP in some form will offer valuable conservation of soil and water and will maintain important habitats for a wide variety of birds.