DU has achieved significant results with both incentive-based and regulatory-based policy. For example, DU has been a leader in supporting appropriations and reauthorization for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for waterfowl habitat conservation across the continent. DU has also been a key backer of conservation provisions in the U.S. Farm Bill and Canada’s Agricultural Policy Framework, which have provided billions of dollars to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners to conserve millions of acres of prime waterfowl habitat.
In other cases, governmental regulations provide a vital safety net for many of the habitats that are most important to waterfowl. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the primary federal protection for wetlands in the United States. DU’s objective analysis of wetland science, economic data, public attitudes, and related policy information has helped positively influence CWA administration, and DU is working hard in the United States to promote new legislation that will restore CWA protections weakened by recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
“Public policy decisions can have far-reaching impacts, both positive and negative, on the landscapes that support waterfowl populations,” says Dr. Scott Yaich, director of conservation operations at DU national headquarters. “Habitat loss in most of our priority regions has largely resulted from policies that provided incentives to landowners to convert wetlands and grasslands to cropland or that failed to protect these habitats. In other cases, conservation programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program have been instrumental in reversing some of these habitat losses.”
Direct Conservation and Extension Programs
Ducks Unlimited’s traditional conservation programs, which directly restore, manage, and protect wetlands and other key waterfowl habitats, have always been DU’s most visible product. These efforts provide a reliable habitat base for waterfowl populations in key places, lend credibility to DU’s policy work, and help strengthen and expand DU’s partnerships with government agencies, foundations, corporations, and individuals.
“On-the-ground conservation work is what DU is most recognized for, and it is ultimately what energizes and motivates our members, volunteers, conservation partners, and donors to support our efforts,” says DU Chief Biologist Dale Humburg. “Direct habitat conservation programs remain vital to DU’s ability to accomplish its vision, and we hope to expand these efforts on high priority landscapes in the future.”
Nevertheless, only a small portion of the landscapes necessary to support waterfowl populations has been permanently protected thus far, and unacceptable rates of habitat loss continue across the continent. The inescapable fact is that wetlands and grasslands continue to be lost faster than DU and its partners can protect and restore these habitats through direct conservation programs alone. Extension programs, where DU provides technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to adopt wildlife-friendly agricultural practices, can help close the gap by enhancing waterfowl habitat across broad landscapes.
The majority of the most important waterfowl habitat on the prairies and in other key areas is privately owned and managed primarily to raise crops and cattle rather than waterfowl. As a result, DU’s extension programs are designed to be profitable for landowners, while also providing improved habitat for waterfowl. DU’s winter wheat program is an excellent example of a formal, strategic extension program that has already had significant positive impacts on important waterfowl landscapes. In Canada, DU helped develop hardier winter wheat varieties, and DU is now working with farmers in wetland-rich areas across the prairies to demonstrate the economic benefits of growing these crops. Just last fall, 1.5 million acres of winter wheat were planted in Prairie Canada on intensively farmed landscapes where permanent upland cover is in short supply. While not as valuable to ducks as native grassland or other permanent cover, winter wheat has the potential to provide millions of additional acres of upland nesting habitat on agricultural landscapes and significantly improve breeding success for pintails and other waterfowl on the prairies.