We had a family visit to our old stomping grounds in Nebraska last week. As we were driving back Sunday on the interstate, at least twice we passed billboards about South Dakota’s “True Environmentalists”. There has been a relatively widespread campaign in the state, as the same type of ads have appeared on TV. And who supposedly are South Dakota’s “True Environmentalists”? Farmers. At least that’s the point of the ad campaign.
I do a lot of driving around the state when I bird. I’ve seen most of the state, especially the eastern half of the state where cultivated cropland dominates the landscape. The LAST thing I ever equate farmers with is environmentalism. In fact, it’s damned depressing driving around and seeing what’s being done with the little “habitat” that’s left in the eastern part of the state. Crop prices are high, and farmers are trying to squeeze every bit of production out of their land. Hey, that’s what farmers do…it’s their living. I understand that. BUT…I want to laugh out loud (or cry) every time I see these stupid ads about South Dakota’s “True Environmentalists”.
The amount of drain tile being put in around the southeast part of the state is amazing. It’s an area that has a long history of use for cultivated crops, yet farmers are putting in drain tile in record levels as they expand their fields into areas that were often too wet to cultivate. I take gravel roads for most of my 15-mile drive to work, just for the chance of potentially running across some interesting birds. The “hotspots” for birding on my drive to work are few and far between, and are disappearing fast. Tiny little wetland areas that I used to drive by are now gone, with drain tile funneling water away as fast as it can percolate into the soil. Former small patches of grassland, even heavily grazed grassland, have been plowed under and planted in corn or soybeans. As a co-worker pointed out to me this week, farmers are even starting to utilize ditches next to gravel roads, either plowing right up to the edge of the road, or installing electric fence so livestock can graze in the ditches.
There’s one organic farm on my way to work. Other than that, farmers are using fertilizer and pesticides and record levels. Ground water in many areas contain very high levels of nitrates, and increasing amounts of pesticides. Water bodies in the eastern part of the state are often green yucky messes in the summer, due to excess fertilization from adjacent farm fields.
“True Environmentalists”? Give me a freakin’ break. As I said, I understand that farmers are in it to make a living. But South Dakota farmers are about as interested in being ”True Environmentalists” as Republicans are in making the rich pay their fair share of taxes. The “True Environmentalist” ad campaign is just one big white-wash.