2022 Berggren Plan Web

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Page 12 of 63

13 RECENT HABITAT TRENDS AND TODAY'S CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES Despite the many successes of the Berggren Plan 1�0, the availability of suitable pheasant habitat has continued to decline in some areas of the state� Undisturbed grasslands restored through the Conservation Reserve Program continue to provide a critical form of nesting and brood-rearing cover for pheasants that is otherwise lacking in many areas of the state, especially in eastern Nebraska� Although the statewide CRP enrollment has increased in recent years (Figure 4), the acreage of undisturbed CRP declined 8�2% between 2016 and 2020 (excluding "Grassland CRP" practices [CP87/CP88] that allow annual haying or grazing)� Currently, Nebraska supports roughly half as many undisturbed CRP acres as it did in the mid-1990s (more than 1�3 million acres), a timeframe that corresponds with the last respectable peak in pheasant harvest (e�g�, 1994: more than 744,000 birds)� In recent years, opportunities for producers to enroll in general or continuous (undisturbed) CRP practices has been relatively limited due to a reduced national CRP acreage cap� This, coupled with high commodity prices and reduced financial incentives (i�e�, annual rental rates and cost-share payments through CRP) has limited landowner interest in CRP, regardless of any additional incentives offered through the Commission� Many other beneficial cover types used by pheasants (e�g�, small grains, wetlands, etc�) have also continued to decline in recent years� The acreage of winter wheat (which provides additional nesting cover) in Nebraska has declined during each of the last five years and the 2020 estimate (830,000 acres) represents an all-time low� Despite some losses due to cropland conversion, the pastureland acreage has stayed relatively stable in recent years� Still, the quality of many of the state's remaining grasslands has declined over time due to overgrazing, woody encroachment, and other factors� Nebraska's changing agricultural landscape clearly presents both challenges and opportunities to restoring Nebraska's pheasant population� In recent planning efforts associated with revision of the National Wild Pheasant Plan (2nd edition), Nebraska utilized the early 1990s as a reference for goal-setting� To restore pheasant populations to levels observed during that timeframe, Nebraska would need an additional 1�12 million acres of undisturbed CRP (termed "CRP acre- equivalents" or "CAEs") to make up for habitat losses� Despite the challenges to increasing landowner enrollment in CRP, the Commission and its partners remain hopeful that recent policy changes made under the 2018 USDA Farm Bill (i�e�, increased national CRP acreage cap and financial incentives, annual CRP sign-up periods, etc�) will provide opportunities to make progress towards this goal during the next five years� Although many of the factors that drive agricultural land- use trends are outside of a state agency's control, the Commission remains dedicated to pheasant management within the state and will continue to seek innovative ways to encourage land-use practices that benefit pheasants and maintain profitable agricultural operations�

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