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Print

More corn not helping wildlife

January 26, 2010 at 11:09 AM

PEORIA JOURNAL STAR

PEORIA — A recent report from the University of Michigan indicates that planting more corn across the United States can pose a hazard to wildlife.

U.S. farmers planted 87 million acres of corn in 2009, up 1 million acres from 2008.

“Our research shows that native grassland is being converted into cropland at an alarming rate. As a result, populations of sensitive wildlife species are declining significantly in areas with high increases in corn plantings,” said Greg Fogel, a University of Michigan graduate student and co-author of the report that analyzed increased corn production in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“Grassland birds - the five species that we studied - have declined in significant numbers between 2005 and 2008,” said Aviva Glaser, another Michigan grad student and report co-author.

While not studied specifically in the report, Glaser said ducks could be affected by the loss of habitat. “Ducks are grassland birds that need the prairies to survive,” she said.

Groups like Ducks Unlimited expressed concern over this loss of habitat, said Glaser.

“More corn production for ethanol will likely result in loss of native grasslands, more draining of wetlands, more high-priced land with less land available for wildlife and hunters and much less suitable nesting habitat for ducks,” said Jim Ringelman, Ducks Unlimited’s director of conservation programs for the Dakotas and Montana

“Corn provides food resources for ducks during nonbreeding periods, but it’s not a viable nesting cover. If corn supplants the existing nesting habitat, which is grassland, then it’s a net sum loss for the birds,” Ringelman said.

Glaser said technological advances in seed have allowed for more corn to be planted on marginal land once reserved as grassland.

“Incentives for corn ethanol production has had a net effect on wildlife. We need more incentives to be put into conservation,” said Glaser.

“Farmers want to do the right thing. If (conservation) rates aren’t competitive, we understand why farmers are (planting corn),” she said.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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