Losing farms, habitat
Landowner Sam Corderman, of Turbotville, saw the results first-hand. He enrolled in the CREP program more than 10 years ago and was selected to be a part of the pheasant recovery program.
“They released birds at my place probably a year after we went into the program. The following year, they put a few more out. The pheasants did fairly well out there,” he said. “But I’m not sure how they’ll fare now that we’re going back into crop farming. The farmer who does our land cut all the grasses down.”
Corderman decided to leave the CREP program at the end of his 10-year contract for a variety of reasons, including increasing crop prices and issues he had with maintaining thistle that was intruding upon his CREP-planted fields.
“The tall grass was supposed to overpower the thistle, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, one year, we spent nearly $3,000 to attempt to stay ahead of it,” Corderman said. “A neighbor is trying to grow organic tobacco and one of their concerns was that the thistle would spread. ”
He admits that getting out of the CREP program has affected the habitat on his property.
“There’s no doubt they had much better hiding areas before. The grasses would fall over and create little teepees — an ideal habitat for the birds,” Corderman said. “We do still see a few birds, but we also hear coyotes at night and see plenty of redtail hawks around. The pheasants aren’t as protected as before.”
The ‘critical line’
Colleen DeLong is the lead wildlife biologist for the region’s pheasant recovery efforts, previously through Pheasants Forever and now with the game commission. She admits that predicting long-term effects can be quite difficult.
“CREP is a 10-year program. You never know what might happen for a farmer over the course of time,” she said. “What happened in the last year — grain prices went pretty high. When people’s contracts expired, they went back to crop farming or rented their property out. The popularity of conservation programs like CREP varies with factors like grain prices.”
The real question, DeLong admits, is how much this is affecting the local program.
“It is tricky. What is that critical line when we’ve lost too much habitat?” she said. “Pheasants are a farmland bird. We need enough habitat on the ground to cover the population or add enough habitat to cover what is lost.”