Subsidies Versus Conservation:

The Washington Post reports on what we've known for a while: the combination of agriculture subsidies, ethanol subsidies, and high ag prices are causing widespread loss of important migratory waterfowl habitat.

Fighting the trend is an array of hunting and conservation groups. The political circumstances in the West have forced them to try to protect the grassland without making it a national park or a federal preserve. "There is still strong resistance in the West to extending federal ownership of land," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

Scott Stephens, director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited, estimates that the Prairie Pothole Region of the Dakotas and Montana could lose an additional 3.3 million acres of native grassland to farming over the next five years if prices stay high and federal policy does not change.

Pat Comer, an ecologist with NatureServe, a nonprofit scientific research organization, said the concern is less with the total acreage lost than with the fragmentation of bird habitat. "We're beginning to affect habitat needs," he said.

High ag prices, inflated by subsidies, make conservation particularly difficult. Among other things, the inflated prices make government conservation payments less appealing.