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Gilles Family Continues to Give Back

Tue, January 15, 2019

Our Spoon River NAVHDA Chapter members had the privilege of guiding the 2018 hunting season at the annual Gilles Farm youth pheasant hunt.  We’ve been a part of so many youth and disabled upland hunting events, but this was one of the best funded and well-run events I’ve yet to see.  Not to mention the farm itself was something to behold. . .

The Gilles hunts are sponsored by the Illinois River Pheasants Forever Chapter as well as several private donors.  They have been holding these hunts for over 13 years and hit a peak of over 200 kids over the two-day event in 2015.  Weather-dependent, they average 100 kids.  Prizes and lunch are furnished for all involved and the dogs used are first class.  Groups of 4-5 kids at a time go out for the hunts.  Clay shooting is offered before each hunt to get the youngsters tuned up.  Lunch is served, and each hunt teaches lessons in gun safety, conservation, hunting etiquette, and cleaning and eating game birds. 

The Gilles family has owned farm ground in Peoria County since 1940. When CRP was offered back in 1992, the family began enrolling its’ highly erodible ground along the Spoon River.  Since then, over 500 acres of land now consists of wetlands, terraces, food plots, dry dams, CRP, CREP, tree plantings, bird houses, winter cover, and prairie grasses and forbs.  Not to mention the farm is a registered game preserve! The prairie has been an experiment over the years, starting with what the government thought was best (lots of grass like big bluestem), and evolving to what ecologists now know is most valuable to wildlife and most mimics the original prairies of Illinois (more forbs and less grass).  This allows for bird species to more easily make their way through the cover, especially quail.  It also provides the best overall habitat diversity so that multiple wildlife species can ultimately benefit. I’ve seen a lot of prairie restorations in my years as a Biologist and this property ranks right up there with the best I’ve yet to behold. After all, mimicking a native prairie is no small feat. 

Several events for local conservation and school groups have been held on the Gilles property over the years in order to educate young and old alike as to what species existed on the prairie and which ones should be used today in order to restore the land. Thousands have made the trip here to learn about the right way to conserve soil, be better stewards of the land, and create habitat for birds and bees alike. Along with these events, multiple Pheasants Forever trap shooting education and competition events have also been hosted here.

The family have received multiple awards including Illinois Conservation Farm Family of the Year, Wildlife Landowners of the Year, Pheasants Forever Dedication Awards, Clean Water Celebration’s Making Waves Award, Illinois Corn Growers Environmental Action Award, and perhaps one of their most esteemed awards—the Pheasants Forever No Child Left Indoors Volunteer of the Year Award.

People like the Gilles family that give back in such a profound way should be commended as should the organizations and people that donate their precious time to such a commendable effort in giving back to the next generation of wildlife conservation via hunting and fishing dollars.  Not only are the Gilles family starting new hunters, but they are educating even non-hunting folks to the importance of wildlife habitat and good land stewardship through the proper use of land. 

If you have a youngster ready to take the next step toward becoming a hunter, I highly suggest getting them enrolled in the Gilles hunt which normally takes place around Thanksgiving weekend every year.  Contact the Illinois River Valley Pheasants Forever Chapter for details.

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Hunting Continues Decline

Mon, December 24, 2018

More than 11 million hunters still exist in North America, however, those numbers have declined sharply just since 2011.  A 20% reduction of big game hunters has occurred since then as well as a loss of over 2 million hunters. Given that our model of wildlife program funding consists of a “user pay” model, that leaves wildlife managers with essentially two options in order to continue to fund conservation: attract new hunters or generate new revenue sources.  The R3 programs funded through the federal government are attempting to recruit new hunters through various “learn to hunt” courses with some amount of initial success.  I believe this has the potential to recruit some new hunters especially given the recent push by “city folks” to eat organic foods and to live lives that have a lesser impact on our environment.  I also believe that non consumptive users helping to pay the bills will also be necessary in the not too distant future.  One of the most popular models and likely also a big part of future funding consists of requiring big business to pay for operating on federal lands (oil and gas extraction as example).

Read more on this subject here: https://theconversation.com/as-hunting-declines-efforts-grow-to-broaden-the-funding-base-for-wildlife-conservation-105792

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2018 Farm Bill Passed by Congress. . .

Wed, December 12, 2018

Farm Bill Finish Line? Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever Spell Out Opportunities for Wildlife

Pheasants Forever & Quail Forever’s government affairs team conferenced in Washington, D.C. late last night, digging deep into the details of a newly-released, 800-page Farm Bill agreement. Despite budget constraints, major conservation programs translating to on-the-ground wildlife habitat would see improvement pending final passage. In particular, “The Habitat Organization” points to a 27-million-acre Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) – an increase of 3 million acres – an expansion of the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), and long-term funding for wetland/agricultural easements as earnest upland habitat improvements.

The CRP remains the nation’s most vital and comprehensive upland habitat program, and while modest, the increase in program acreage is magnified with additional details of state-specific CRP allocations that would direct more critical grassland acres to core regions of pheasant and quail country. The VPA-HIP – the only federal program helping to expand hunting and fishing opportunities through partnerships with landowners – increased from $40 million to $50 million, which means an opportunity for states to scale up or launch new public access programs.

“American wildlife and landowners need a Farm Bill in place, and we’re on the precipice of that,” said Dave Nomsen, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s vice president of governmental affairs who has worked with legislators on crafting the Farm Bill since 1992. “Although we’re pleased with the Conservation Title, we are concerned that over the last several Farm Bills, conservation funding and acres have either remained flat, or in cases like CRP acres, reduced. This is the first time CRP acres have increased since the 1996 Farm Bill, and part of that is due to the support of our 140,000 members, volunteers, hunters, farmers and landowners making their voices heard in support of a strengthened CRP.”

Here’s what you need to know about conservation provisions in the new Farm Bill language:

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP)

Acreage cap and funding – Increases CRP acreage from 24 million to 27 million acres by 2023.

Instructs the Secretary of Agriculture to enroll 30 percent of all acres within continuous CRP (8.6M acres total). This includes targeted programs such as States Acres for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE), upland CP33 quail buffers, and other practices that benefit wildlife, reduce soil erosion, and improve water quality. 

Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to conduct routinely scheduled General signups with targeted state-to-state allocations. This is a critical element for adding new acres into the program annually.

A new program called CLEAR 30 will provide a pilot program for a 30-year contract option on the most highly sensitive lands such as buffers, wetlands and riparian areas.

Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP)

Reauthorizes funding for VPA-HIP at $50 million over the life of the Farm Bill. This is the most important program of its kind for hunter access nationwide and the only federal program helping to expand hunting and fishing opportunities on private lands.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP):

The percentage of EQIP funds that will benefit wildlife has increased from 5 percent to 10 percent, providing an estimated $200 million per year. This specifically has new opportunities for quail and forest habitat.
The Working Lands for Wildlife Program is expanded and codified in new Farm Bill language to continue work in priority landscapes for multiple species; including quail, sage grouse, lesser prairie chickens, and other wildlife.

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP)

Provides a funding boost of $2.25 billion over the life of the Farm Bill. This is an important program for long-term and permanent land protection. The high demand for ACEP dollars to create wetland and agricultural easements has far outpaced current demand.
Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP)

Authorizes SHIPP “to assist landowners with conserving and improving soil, water, and wildlife resources” while allowing shorter contracts from 3 to 5 years in the Prairie Pothole Region. The program also increases flexibility for producers to create more early successional grassland habitat for pheasants and other wildlife.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP)
Expanded and strengthened to include $1.5 billion over the life of the bill to leverage local, state and other non-federal funding sources in order to create and enhance wildlife habitat on private lands.
Sodsaver and Conservation Compliance

These provisions will continue to protect native habitats that include prairie, wetland and forestlands that balance an ecosystem consisting of conservation and agricultural production systems.
Since 2008, CRP has been reduced more than 14 million acres across many states that are considered to be historical strongholds for pheasant and quail populations – the effects have been sobering. However, the new Farm Bill legislation does provide optimism for the future including routinely-scheduled general signups with state allocations, more flexible haying and grazing provisions, and a number of technical changes to rental rates, incentives and cost-share payments.

“We’re hopeful these changes will spur additional interest in conservation, leading to higher enrollment levels in priority landscapes benefitting pheasants, quail and other wildlife,” added Nomsen. “Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever look forward to working closely with USDA to implement on-the-ground acres as quickly as possible.”

About Pheasants Forever

Pheasants Forever, including its quail conservation division, Quail Forever, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to upland habitat conservation. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have more than 149,000 members and 725 local chapters across the United States and Canada. Chapters are empowered to determine how 100 percent of their locally raised conservation funds are spent; the only national conservation organization that operates through this truly grassroots structure. Since creation in 1982, Pheasants Forever has spent $784 million on 530,000 habitat projects benefiting 17 million acres nationwide.

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