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Published August 05, 2013, 10:45 AM

Wetlands loss

An interactive map published by the Environmental working group shows the counties that have experienced the most dramatic conversions of wetlands, habitat and highly erodible lands to cropland.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

The Environmental Working Group recently published an interactive map that shows the counties in the United States that have experienced the most dramatic conversions of wetlands, nearby habitat and highly erodible land to row crops as commodity prices have risen in recent years and it has become economically worthwhile for farmers to plant crops on more fragile land.

The research shows that the most dramatic loss of wetlands occurred in three states — South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota — the core of the Prairie Pothole Region on which more than 50 percent of North American migratory waterfowl depend.

Exploitation of highly erodible land is more widespread, with 10 states — Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska — accounting for 57 percent of all the highly erodible land converted to cropland.

“What’s most troubling is the correlation between these areas and the counties with the highest average federal crop insurance payouts,” says Craig Cox, EWG senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “In other words, the data strongly suggest that over-subsidized insurance policies are greasing the wheels of conversion to row crops.”

EWG called for the farm bill to include conservation compliance for crop insurance and a “sodsaver” provision that reduces crop insurance premium subsidies on native prairie or grassland that is planted with crops.

The group notes that the Senate version of the farm bill includes the conservation compliance link while the House version does not, and that the Senate “sodsaver” provision is much stronger than the House version.