Delta Waterfowl applauds the recent decision by the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) to increase the percentage of duck stamp dollars going to the prairie breeding grounds for habitat conservation in 2012.
The commission’s decision calls for an increase of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars for the prairie pothole states (Region 6 and Region 3). The majority of increased funding will be used for taking perpetual voluntary wetland and grassland easements, particularly in North Dakota and South Dakota, which attract the vast majority of ducks nesting annually in the United States.
“This is a historic decision, spearheaded by director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he deserves enormous praise for his vision and leadership on this issue,” said John Devney, director of U.S policy for Delta Waterfowl, which for years has publically supported increased funding to the prairie breeding grounds. “In an era of tight budgets and scare resources, director Ashe followed the science and made the best decision for the future of ducks and duck hunters everywhere. We applaud this move wholeheartedly.”
Long recognized as North America’s “duck factory”, the grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) produce roughly 50 percent of the continent’s ducks on an average year and up to 70 percent when water and grass are abundant, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
The commission’s decision will reallocate upwards of 70 percent (nearly $30 million) of the MBCF to breeding grounds, with roughly $20 million going to North Dakota and South Dakota. In 2011, the PPR states received $17 million. The MBCF receives revenues from federal duck stamp sales, important duties on guns and ammunition, among several other sources.
Devney says increasing funding for waterfowl conservation on the prairie breeding grounds is critical to the long-term future of duck hunting.
“The duck factory is in trouble,” said Devney. “The wetland and grassland resources here are at greater risk than they have been in decades. Every region in the country has pressing needs, but these are duck stamp dollars, and right now the greatest need for ducks is on the breeding grounds.”
Devney says roughly 6.2 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts will expire in September nationwide, and few expect those acres to be renewed, thanks in large part to high commodity prices, high land values and higher cash rents.
“CRP habitat, particularly in the Dakotas and parts of Montana, has been a boon for prairie-nesting ducks, but those acres are disappearing more and more every year, which makes the funding reallocation to the breeding grounds all the more important,” said Devney.
North Dakota currently has 2.5 million CRP acres (down from more than 3 million), but contracts on roughly 800,000 acres will expire in September. In South Dakota, contracts on 200,000 acres will expire this year as well, dropping its total CRP allotment to 900,000 acres.
“When you factor in all the native prairie we’re also losing in the Dakotas each year, the amount of grassland habitat loss in the duck factory is staggering,” said Devney, noting an estimated 50,000 acres of native prairie in South Dakota is broken each year for agricultural production. “The rich wetland base of the Dakotas is also at risk. There’s a burgeoning interest in tiling and draining as producers look for increased tillable acreage and higher yields.”
The good news is that demand for landowner easements across the PPR remains high, including “the best of the best duck habitat” in the Dakotas the USFWS is targeting.
Said one USFWS official, “We still have a sizeable waiting list of willing landowners. I hope demand stays high. I believe it will. But there’s no getting around the fact there are a lot of economic forces working against duck conservation on the breeding grounds.”
Delta Waterfowl Scientific Director Dr. Frank Rohwer, who is also a professor at Louisiana State University’s School of Renewable Natural Resources, says increased investments on the prairies are important to waterfowlers across the U.S.
“The science is clear,” said Dr. Rohwer, who regularly hunts Louisiana’s coastal marshes. “The greatest biological need for habitat conservation is on the breeding grounds. If we don’t protect key habitats on the prairies, our ability to raise ducks for hunters everywhere will be greatly diminished.”
Devney says Delta Waterfowl supports increased funding to the breeding grounds beyond 2012. He says that effort could be bolstered by increasing the price of the federal duck stamp. The stamp, required by all hunters who hunt migratory birds, has cost $15 for the past two decades—the longest period without an increase since the stamp’s inception in 1934.
President Obama’s latest budget proposal would increase the price to $25 in 2013, the same proposal made by former President George W. Bush in 2008, and which Congress declined.
“Inflation has greatly diminished the purchasing power since the last duck stamp increase in 1991,” said Devney. “An increase would greatly improve our efforts to preserve critical duck-nesting habitat for years to come. Delta Waterfowl supports the increase because it’s the best investment in habitat conservation available for ducks and duck hunters alike.”