HIGHMORE, S.D. -- The ducks arrive in early April, zeroing in on thousands of shallow ponds fed by melting snow amid a vast prairie. As the pintails, mallards and blue-winged teal make nests in the grass and feed their young on abundant aquatic insects and freshwater shrimp, a 276,000-square-mile area reaching across five states and into Canada is transformed into one of the world's greatest habitats for migrating birds.
Now this swath, known as the Prairie Pothole Region because of the depressions formed long ago by retreating glaciers, is threatened by the steady advance of farming. Spurred by federal subsidies and two years of surging commodity prices, farmers increasingly are digging up the grass to plant crops, raising concerns among cattle ranchers, hunters and environmental groups about the future of land where Sioux hunters chased grazing buffalo a mere century and a half ago.
[...] With rainfall in this part of South Dakota averaging only 17 inches a year, conservation groups say most farmers would not risk the start-up costs of plowing and preparing the ground without crop insurance, on which the federal government pays close to 60 percent of the premium.
"If there was no insurance, you'd have to sit down and study it," acknowledged Kevin Baloun, who operates a large farm in Hyde County. "You might think twice about it."
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Yuck. From the Washington Post: