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President should restart CRP enrollment

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Obama administration should act quickly to reopen the door to re-enrollment in one of the most valuable land conservation programs in history.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Obama administration should act quickly to reopen the door to re-enrollment in one of the most valuable land conservation programs in history.

Potential already is high for the most dramatic loss of grasslands in the Midwest since the sodbusters swept across the prairie. The change already is signaled occasionally by smoke from a prescribed burn as landowners prepare to convert the land to crops.

The 2008 farm bill called for a reduction in Conservation Reserve Program land from 40 million acres to 32 million. That goal already has been achieved.

Opening the door to re-enrollment would begin to stem the loss.

In North Dakota, 212,294 CRP acres expire this year. Next year, 261,409 are scheduled to expire. In 2011, 388,974 are set to expire.

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CRP pays farmers for taking fragile, easily erodible land out of crop production.

Today, some of its staunchest supporters are wildlife and conservation groups. The program gets high marks from conservation groups for protecting land near rivers and streams from erosion and for creating wildlife habitat.

To be sure, the program has its critics. Notably, the program is sometimes the culprit when celebrities and millionaires get farm-subsidy checks from the government.

Even though some of the CRP funds go to wealthy individuals, the ecological benefit of the program cannot be denied.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture should open the door to re-enrollment. It took years to establish the deep root system that lies beneath the grasses that ripple in the prairie wind, but it will take only a few days to destroy it.

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