Cheeseburgers and Conservation

7675f90a-3c11-4c85-a2d8-763b9b5a8545 By Chad Love, Quail Forever Journal Editor

When I pulled into the weathered old gas station, I wasn’t at all sure the obsolete gas pumps, with their obvious early 70s-era design, even worked or if they were there simply as totems to a bygone era out here in the middle of nowhere. No credit card slot, no annoying video screen, and no choice of grade. But the old-fashioned mechanical spinning number wheels reset themselves when I flipped the lever on the side of the pump, and when I squeezed the nozzle handle, gas started flowing. Nothing flashy, I thought to myself, just solid and reliable, kinda like the country around here and the people who inhabit it.
   
After filling the tank, I went inside to pay and buy some snacks and ice for the cooler. It was a typical small-town convenience store, which means it was much more than just a convenience store, but a combination restaurant, coffee shop, general store, community bulletin board, and social gathering spot.
 
“Been bird hunting?” the lady behind the counter asked as I paid for my gas and supplies. 
“Yes, ma’am, I have,” I replied.
“Pheasants, bobs, or blues?” 
“A few bobs, but the blues have been hard to find,” I said.
“Well, we’ve got a covey out behind our corrals, but you can’t have them,” she joked.
“We’ve got a house covey of bobs back home, so I totally understand,” I replied with a laugh. “Have you had quite a few hunters out here since the season started?”
“As a matter of fact we have,” she replied. “Most of them are out here hunting the walk-in areas. We get quite a bit of business from out-of-staters this time of year.”

I wanted to ask a few more questions, but there were customers in line behind me, so I thanked her, gathered my items, and as I walked out the door she wished me good luck hunting and reminded me to come back tomorrow for the cheeseburger special.

It was the type of completely ordinary everyday casual conversation we all have, but it spoke volumes to the interconnectedness of rural economies, small-town survival, upland conservation, ag policy, and the future of hunting.

I wasn’t from this area, had no roots, knew no one, had no access to private land, and there was very little public land to hunt in this area. And yet here I was, experiencing a pretty damn good out-of-state quail hunt, anyway.
 
How? Because there were farmers, ranchers, and landowners with the foresight, the vision, and the land stewardship ethic to enroll property in the Conservation Reserve Program, and then go on to enroll many of those properties in the state’s walk-in hunting access program.
 
As hunters, we can’t simply R3 our way out of the current steep declines in hunter numbers. Mentoring a new hunter is great, but if you don’t have somewhere to mentor them, that effort is all in vain. And the simple truth is, the vast majority of upland habitat, both current and potential, is privately owned.

If you’ve ever shot a quail on a walk-in area in the prairie states, chances are good that walk-in area is enrolled in CRP. If you’ve ever experienced the kind of quail hunt out there that you can no longer experience in your home state, thank the wise stewardship of a farmer, rancher, or landowner. There are currently over 600,000 CRP contracts on 360,000 farms across the nation. That represents over 22 million acres of habitat.

However, there are also 8 million acres of new opportunity opening up through a just-announced CRP general signup. That’s 8 million acres of upland habitat that improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, increases native biodiversity, stimulates rural economies and yes, gives you, me, and future generations a place to hunt.

That’s why the current CRP sign-up is so crucially important. Land placed in CRP isn’t “idled,” “out of production,” or “unproductive.” In fact, it’s anything but.
 
Conservation of upland habitat and hunting access to that habitat once it’s conserved. That’s not taking the land out of production – that’s the ignition that turns over the motor of rural economies, one out-of-town cheeseburger special and fill-up at a time.

You can learn more about the CRP program here.
 
CRP sign-up runs through February 28, 2020. If you are a landowner or know one who may be interested in CRP sign-up, please consider enrolling acres, and in the process creating your own small, but vitally-important legacy for the future.

Quail Forever Farm Bill biologists are ready to help you or someone you know sign up new acres or renew a contract today. There are 8 million acres of opportunity available. Make some of that opportunity yours.