Hay, where's the grass? Wildlife areas opened to grazing, mowing

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A scarcity of livestock forage has led Minnesota to open parts of 43 wildlife management areas to grazing and haying.

The DNR made the announcement Thursday, saying the move affects 922 acres where managers had already planned burns or other disturbances to grassland.

But the decision immediately led to some concerns about the possible effect on wildlife, particularly the pheasants that hunters will pursue this fall. At the Pioneer Press, outdoors writer Dave Orrick envisions the loss of cover for pheasants. Orrick cites anecdotal accounts that -- while it's more expensive than usual -- livestock feed is available. He says critics will see the DNR's action more as a subsidy for farmers than the emergency response it's been labelled.

Livestock forage has been in short supply since last year's drought. But the shortage was exacerbated by a winterkill that wiped out many Minnesota alfalfa fields this spring. That has livestock producers scrambling for hay and digging deeper to pay for it.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin recently visited with a farmer who's mowing the ditches on his land to come up with hay. Eric Walker of Zumbro Falls told the paper "This year it's huge — everyone is mowing ditches and waters. You get hay where you can."

The acreage the DNR has opened to haying and grazing is primarily in southern Minnesota, but also includes some central and northwestern counties.

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