CRP is the largest private landowner conservation program in the United States, with up to 32 million acres eligible for enrollment in long-term conservation easements. In exchange for annual rental payments, participating farmers agree to take highly erodible land out of crop production, and establish permanent vegetation to protect topsoil and provide wildlife cover. The program, which is administered by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), typically contracts with farmers to maintain these easements for 10 to 15 years.
“The new wildflower planting incentives represent a monumental shift in CRP,” said Eric Mader, Assistant Pollinator Program Director at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a pollinator advocacy group based in Portland, Ore. “In the past, most CRP land was maintained in non-native grasses, which had limited value to wildlife. This change will help pollinators, provide shelter for pheasants, songbirds and endangered butterflies, and can provide global environmental benefits by encouraging deep-rooted prairie wildflowers that help sequester carbon.”
Under the current CRP application process, landowners who want to participate are ranked against one another to prioritize enrollments that offer the most conservation benefits. By agreeing to plant at least 10% of the CRP acres in native wildflowers, farmers receive a higher score and are more likely to be selected as program participants.
As a result, nearly 20,000 acres of new CRP pollinator habitat is being established in Colorado alone, with total commitments in Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Washington ranging from 1,200 to 3,200 acres.
This added emphasis on pollinators makes CRP the largest bee conservation effort in North America. While diseases and pesticide use have been implicated in the decline of honey bees, native bumble bees and butterflies, experts also point to habitat loss as a major factor. Organizations like the Xerces Society and the California-based Partners for Sustainable Pollination (PFSP) hope that CRP can help reverse that trend.
To meet a similar anticipated demand for new pollinator habitat enrollments in 2011, the USDA is consulting with groups like the Xerces Society, PFSP and the University of Minnesota’s Dr. Marla Spivak, a honey bee expert and 2010 MacArthur Fellow, to identify the best wildflowers and planting methods for each region of the country.
The annual value of bee pollinated crops in the U.S. is estimated at $20 billion, and includes alfalfa, sunflower, canola, apples, almonds, citrus, berries, pumpkins and other economically important commodities.
ABOUT THE XERCES SOCIETY
The Xerces Society is a nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. Established in 1971, the Society is at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programs. To learn more about our work or to donate to the Society, please visit www.xerces.org.