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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited Focus Funding to Protect Vital Waterfowl Habitat in Prairie Pothole Region

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Ducks Unlimited announced today they will work with the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to focus resources on wildlife habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region of the northern plains, breeding grounds for a majority of the continent’s ducks.

The grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region have long been recognized as the “Duck Factory” of North America. The area is known to produce 50 percent of the continent’s ducks on an average year and up to 70 percent when water and grass are abundant. This focus will stem the threat posed by the increasing rate of conversion of native grasslands and isolated wetlands to agricultural and other uses.

“The Prairie Pothole Region is vital to waterfowl and other migratory birds in North America. At the same time, it is home to thousands of people who have stewarded and worked the land for generations,” said U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “This effort will help us work with willing landowners to put conservation easements in place on tens of thousands of additional acres, helping to stem the loss of these breeding grounds.”

Under this initiative, the Service, Ducks Unlimited and other partners will work with the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission to expend upwards of 70 percent—approximately $30 million—of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to help secure the future for waterfowl and grassland species on the prairies. Additional funding available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) will further bolster the effort to conserve the prairies. The Service has recommended LWCF investments of an additional $3.5 million in the president’s 2013 budget to support this strategy.

“The Prairie Pothole Region plays a central role in sustaining healthy duck populations, and we are pleased with the direction of more funding toward habitat conservation and restoration in this critical area that is seeing increased threats,” said Paul Schmidt, chief conservation officer for Ducks Unlimited. “We look forward to working with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that these additional dollars are effectively leveraged so waterfowl from the ‘Duck Factory’ continue to fill the skies along America’s flyways.”

The Migratory Bird Conservation Fund is primarily composed of revenue from the sale of Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as federal duck stamps. Each year, millions of waterfowl hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts directly contribute to habitat conservation with the purchase of these stamps. Since 1934, funding from the sales of duck stamps has protected more than 5 million acres of wetlands and grasslands for ducks, geese and other wildlife, including hundreds of thousands of acres in the Prairie Pothole Region. The southern portion of this region extends from central Iowa, northwest through Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana and into Canada.

The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission was established on Feb. 18, 1929, through the passage of the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. It was created and authorized to consider and approve any areas of land and/or water recommended by the Secretary of the Interior for purchase or rental by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and to fix the price or prices at which such areas may be purchased or rented. In addition to approving purchase and rental prices, the Commission considers the establishment of new waterfowl refuges.

Through its Grasslands for Tomorrow initiative, Ducks Unlimited has pledged to perpetually protect 2 million acres of native prairie for future generations to experience and enjoy—one of the most ambitious conservation initiatives ever undertaken. Protection of native prairie is achieved through perpetual grassland and wetland easements, land purchases and donated conservation easements. These approaches are always directed at willing landowners.

The Service’s Small Wetlands Program uses funds from the sale of federal duck stamps to permanently protect waterfowl production areas—nearly 3 million acres so far. The habitat protected through the Small Wetland Program consists of small wetlands and surrounding grassland habitat, primarily in the U.S. portion of the Prairie Pothole Region. These areas, protected in perpetuity through fee-title acquisition or easement, are called waterfowl production areas.

“We will work with private landowners to accelerate the conservation of native prairie—both wetland and grassland habitats—within the Prairie Pothole Region in the eastern parts of North Dakota and South Dakota,”

Ashe said. “The conservation area is an easement program that will be part of a strategic, landscape-scale conservation effort to conserve vital habitat.”

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