Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Rural Route 1, Box 96K, Jamestown, ND 58401.
The present Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has enrolled approximately 2.8 million ha in the Prairie Pothole Region of the United States. Soil erosion has been reduced by some 103 metric tons or 36.29 metric tons/ha each year. The majority of the CRP acreage is highly erodible land (HEL) and contains thousands of existing and restorable prairie wetlands. CRP presently provides protection for these wetlands from sedimentation, fertilizer and pesticide runoff, and extends their life by providing permanent vegetative cover on the watersheds; sedimentation is reduced by approximately 50%. If CRP were moved from non-HEL to HEL with high existing or restorable wetland densities and converted to wetland reserve, environmental or conservation easements would provide additional benefits. In addition, landowners would be compensated for protecting wetlands and fragile land, and could make some economic use of these areas. CRP in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota is presently 49% HEL and protects 114,000 existing wetlands and over 6,000 partially drained wetlands. If future CRP enrollment, in North Dakota, were targeted to HEL lands with high existing or restorable wetland complexes, we could save an additional 9-18 million metric tons of soil annually and protect an additional 100-150 thousand wetlands. These areas could then be converted to long-term programs like the USDA's wetland reserve, or environmental easement, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's grassland easement, all of which give long-term protection to fragile land and prairie wetlands. A typical 30-year wetland reserve easement in the central portion of North Dakota containing 10.12 ha of wetlands and 50.59 ha of HEL cropland would cost between $9,000-$11,000 or about one-fourth of the current CRP costs.