In locations where wildlife habitat has been degraded and the land is for sale, Ducks Unlimited will seek to acquire land (primarily on the breeding grounds). Once purchased, grasslands and wetlands on the property will be restored and conservation easements will be placed on land to perpetually protect important resource values. Once restoration is complete and protections are in place, the land will be sold to a wildlife agency or to a private individual who shares DU's interest in protecting the prairie's natural values. This will include ranchers who are willing to work with DU to maintain sustainable, grassland-based ranching operations, as well as individuals who want the land primarily for its conservation or recreational values.
Unlike funding for traditional DU projects, all of the dollars used to acquire properties are obtained from gifts specified for land purchase. Additionally, dollars generated from each land sale are then used to purchase other critical breeding waterfowl habitat on the market that is deemed to be under threat.
Most parcels of land owned by DU are open to the public for hunting access while in DU ownership. Hundreds of hunters from South Dakota and many other states take the opportunity each year to enjoy recreating on DU properties. Recreational opportunities on DU-owned properties may range from a misty morning duck hunt on a secluded pond, to an afternoon walk through a cattail marsh for pheasants, to a carefully planed evening stalk of a bedded white-tailed buck, or a casual hike across the hills of the prairie in pursuit of the elusive sharp-tailed grouse.
While under DU ownership, the various tracts of land are managed to benefit waterfowl including restoring any drained wetlands and reseeding any grassland that has been converted to cropland. In the first five years of managing DU-owned lands, 40 drained basins have been restored and enhanced (141 total wetland acres) and 645 acres of cropland have been seeded to perennial grasses and forbs. In the next two years, an additional 900 acres of cropland will be seeded back to a native plant community. Ducks Unlimited uses a combination of biological, chemical, and mechanical methods to keep weeds in control and to maintain healthy native prairie plant and wildlife populations.
The purchase, management, and protection of critical waterfowl breeding habitat and the eventual sale of these properties is just one of the promising methods DU is employing to help ensure some of the best remaining prairie grasslands, that are so critical for waterfowl and beef production, are preserved for many generations of wildlife, sportsmen, and ranchers alike.