Unlike my home state of Oregon, Idaho has a population of Sharp-tailed Grouse.
So I took advantage of my temporary possession of Henry the Huntin’ Hound, and we set out for south-central Idaho.
Sharp-tailed males are famous for their colorful displays and crazy antics during spring mating season.
Sharp-tailed Grouse (aka Tympanuchus phasianellus, Sharptails or Sharpies) were once abundant throughout the grasslands of the West and upper-Midwest. But they are now extirpated (locally extinct) from most of the West. There is a scattering of Sharptails in Idaho, but a short and tightly regulated hunting season for them is allowed in one small region where they have plenty of habitat and their numbers are healthy.
The native habitat for Sharptails were the once vast grasslands. But virtually all such grasslands were turned into grainfields, croplands, or pastures.
The Conservation Reserve Program was signed into law by President Reagan as part of the 1985 Farm Bill. Administered by the US Department of Agriculture, the purpose of the program is to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and effect wildlife benefits. The CRP started out as an erosion-control program, rooted in memories of the disastrous 1930’s Dust Bowl era. Over the years it has evolved into a wildlife and water-quality program as well.
This farmer harvested the vast majority of their acreage, voluntarily left a few rows of corn for wildlife food, and through the CRP program was paid to leave a buffer strip of uncultivated land around the wetlands.
But the CRP is not universally loved. Businesses that sell farm products don’t like it because taking land out of crop production reduces demand for fertilizer, pesticides, tractors, fuel and the like. This hurts farm dependent rural economies. Farmers must enroll in the CRP for 10 or 15 year time blocks, leaving them vulnerable to changes in the commodity markets. Farmers often confess to feeling odd about a program that pays them not to practice their profession. Farmer welfare some call it. And environmentalists say the program falls far short of its potential.
US taxpayers fork over about $2 billion a year for this program. This is only about 10% of the total monies that go to directly subsidize American farmers, but it is still a lot. Why haven’t the budget cutters in Congress done away with this program?
Iowa is the epicenter of CRP money specifically and farm subsidies in general. So no presidential candidate ever has a bad word to say about this use of taxpayer dollars. Iowa’s conservative, red-state, budget cutting, welfare-queen hating, Republican legislators somehow turn a blind eye toward this spending outlay. And neither the liberal, Democratic, tree hugging, bird watching, clean water appreciating city folk nor the hook and bullet crowd are going to complain either. So the CRP lives on.
But wait, there’s more. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game pays private landowners to encourage them to give public access to hunting and fishing on their lands. Truth is they only get about $1/acre/year, so for most landowners it is hardly worth the hassle. But for landowners who are already in the federal CRP program and don’t have to worry about people tromping around on their crops it is a good deal. Frosting on the cake.
This was once a wheat field, but thanks to the CRP it is great habitat for wildlife. And thanks to Access Yes!’s use of my hunting license money, I get to hunt here.
Janene’s sister and brother-in-law live nearby (by western standards) in Idaho Falls. So they drove over to join us.
Colleen and Lloyd don’t hunt, but they love to hike. Which is great for me, as Sharp-tail hunting is all about covering lots of miles in hope of finding the widely scattered birds. Henry is a fine bird dog, but on this day Lloyd outperformed him by flushing up the only bird I got a shot at.
Lloyd flushed the bird, and I shot it, but we let Henry pose in the picture anyway. It’s good for his self-esteem. (He loves seeing his pictures on Facebook. (Give him a “Like”)
I knew nothing about hunting Sharp-tailed Grouse until this day. But now that I have a lifetime 100% shooting average, I am an expert and fully capable of mansplaining how to hunt them.
We like checking out little towns we come across in our travels. Nearby Holbrook was settled by the Mormons in the 1890’s, and may have hit 100 people in its heyday, but after WWII its population declined and the civic amenities began to disappear. The LDS church is still in good repair along with a handful of houses, but most buildings are in disrepair. This could explain how one house became a pit bull breeding and marijuana grow operation until put out of business by a triple murder in 2013. 60+ pit bulls were removed from the scene. I’ll bet that was big news in church the next Sunday.
The only sign of new construction in town was a remodel of an old grain silo. Someone added living space on the north side, and a nice deck on the south. I’d love to see what they did on the inside. And I hope they have plans for an awesome loft bedroom on the top floor. And maybe a zipline to get to church on the other side of town.
Too bad so few people live in little towns like Holbrook. Too bad our modern economy has killed rural lifestyles. In cities one cannot see the horizon for all the buildings. You don’t get a sunset like this in the big city.