|| Greenfield, K. C., Burger, Jr., L. W., Chamberlain, M. J., Kurzejeski, E. W.
||Since 1985, an annual average of more than 14 million ha of very erodible cropland has been removed from production and enrolled in perennial grass practices under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The rate of changes in plant communities on CRP fields can be modified (intentionally or accidentally) by disturbance-management regimes. Throughout the Midwest and Southeast, habitat quality for early successional and grassland species may decline as CRP grasslands age, but premeditated disturbance regimes may enhance and maintain habitat quality for these species. However, concerns regarding perceived conflicts between wildlife habitat and soil erosion objectives of the CRP persist among United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) personnel. Therefore, we evaluated effects of strip-discing on vegetation structure and composition and soil erosion in tall fescue (Festuca arundiacea) and orchard grass(Dactylis glomerata) CRP fields in Missouri. We interpreted vegetation response in the context of habitat quality for a socially and economically important species, the northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). Fall discing generally increased percentage bare ground and plant diversity and decreased percentage litter cover and litter depth. However, plant community response and duration of effects differed between fescue and orchard grass fields. Gains in habitat quality in fescue fields were minimal and short-lived, whereas enhancements in orchard grass fields were substantial
and longer-lived. Overall, fall discing enhanced bobwhite habitat quality, but responses diminished by the second growing season post-treatment, especially in CRP fields planted to fescue. Soil-loss potential, as estimated by the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation( RUSLE), as well within USDA tolerable limits for all treatments. Our findings indicated that discing intensity on CRP fields could be increased by 2-3 times without compromising soil erosion provisions of CRP. Therefore, we suggest that strip-discing on a 2- to 3-year rotation should be a permissible and encouraged practice to maintain early succession plant communities on CRP fields in the Midwest and Southeast.