In tomorrow’s print edition of the Washington Post is an article about Midwestern farmers turning some of their land into wetlands and getting paid for it. Such an idea has many advantages and not just for the birds who would use the land as habitat. Wetland plants and grasses capture nitrogen and phosphorus and return them into the air. Currently some of the nitrogen and phosphorus used to fertilize “our good crops”, as Woody Guthrie called them, runs off and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. That causes massive algae blooms which suck up so much oxygen that other marine life dies from oxygen starvation. Many rivers in the United States carry too much nitrogen and phosphorus so it is a good idea whose time probably hasn’t come yet. (Although the “Wetlands Initiative” program discussed in the article has received a $15 million grant from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Cook County and has applied for $11 million from the EPA for a 5000 acre project.) One enthusiastic supporter predicts that it could someday pay some farmers more than they could earn on crops. I have my doubts but still it seems like a good idea to try.
We have friends who own a farm in Western Kansas and love birds. We’ve suggested they do this and we’ll come guide people on birding tours. I just hope they don’t expect us to come up with the money ourselves.I’m writing their congresspersons just as soon as I finish this blog entry. I imagine they would take $10 million or maybe even a little less to turn their farm into wetlands. Then they will join a new and admirable group which we dub “Bird Farmers.”