ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As Saturday’s pheasant season opener approaches, Minnesota officials are sounding an alarm about the decline of a federal grassland conservation program.

The Conservation Reserve Program once kept more than 1.7 million acres of marginal farmland covered with native grass that provided pheasants with food and cover. That’s shrunk over the past 20 years to under 1 million acres as landowners have shifted the land back to farming.

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The CRP is meant to take environmentally sensitive land out of protection, but the fees paid to farmers haven’t kept pace with higher crop prices.

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DNR Wildlife Section chief Dennis Simon says that unless federal policy changes to make CRP a more attractive option for landowners, Minnesota could be a less friendly state for pheasants, ducks and tourism related to pheasant hunting.

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