Conservation: Southeast Wetlands Initiative

Supporting the rich outdoor heritage of the southeastern United States by conserving vital wetlands for waterfowl

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By Andi Cooper

Ducks Unlimited's Southeast Wetlands Initiative area encompasses much of the southeastern United States, a highly diverse geographical region with time-honored traditions and a strong hunting heritage. This seven-state area boasts many of the Atlantic and eastern Mississippi Flyways' most important wetland systems and legendary waterfowling areas, including Chesapeake Bay, Currituck Sound, the ACE Basin, Mobile Bay, and the St. Johns River. It's also where some of North America's most storied duck clubs were established and where legendary decoy carvers such as Ira Hudson, Ned Burgess, and Delbert "Cigar" Daisey plied their trade.

The Southeast Wetlands Initiative area supports at least half of the wintering waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway, and wetlands in this region serve as the year-round home of wood ducks, mottled ducks, and many other wildlife species.

Habitats of particular importance to waterfowl include bays, estuaries, managed coastal impoundments, floodplain forests, and freshwater marshes. Boasting a strong economy and temperate climate, the Southeast is among the nation's most desirable places to live. As a result, population growth and urban expansion now threaten many of the region's crucial waterfowl habitats.

Fortunately, the Southeast's rich outdoor heritage ensures strong public- and private-sector support for conserving wetlands and other imperiled wildlife habitats. Although DU is working across the region, the Southeast Wetlands Initiative's highest priority is to conserve essential waterfowl wintering habitat along the Atlantic Coast from Chesapeake Bay to South Carolina's Lowcountry.

DU License Plates Support Conservation
The Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama all offer Ducks Unlimited supporters the opportunity to display their dedication to the ducks through the purchase of DU specialty license plates. Dollars raised from annual license plate fees support DU's highest conservation priorities in those states. For example, South Carolina DU license plate funding has supported mottled duck research and the state's wood duck box program. In addition, this revenue helped DU secure a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant for an upcoming project on Broad River Wildlife Management Area outside of Columbia.

If you live in a state that offers a DU license plate, please order one. If your state doesn't have a DU plate, consider starting a petition drive asking state leaders to make one available. DU license plates feature a variety of designs, including the familiar duck head logo as well as retrievers, waterfowl, and other wetland wildlife. Having one of these attractive license plates on your vehicle is a great way to show your support for DU and provide important additional revenue for wetlands and waterfowl conservation in your state.

Through conservation easements, DU has helped private landowners in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas permanently protect more than 139,000 acres of vital wildlife habitat. The majority of this acreage has been protected in the Lowcountry, one of the Atlantic Flyway's most important waterfowl wintering areas. DU is also working throughout this region to enhance waterfowl habitat on public hunting lands. Last year alone, DU enhanced more than 36,500 acres of wetlands in this initiative area.

Recognizing that strong science and sound public policies are vital to DU's success, the Southeast Wetlands Initiative supports research and programs that bolster the conservation and management of waterfowl and their habitats. Because ducks and geese do not recognize international borders, this initiative also supports conservation work in Canada and parts of the northern United States where many of the waterfowl that winter in the Southeast are raised. Wildlife agencies in the seven states in this initiative area understand the vital connection between the breeding grounds and the waterfowl that hunters see over their decoys in the fall. As a result, all participate in the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies' state contributions program. Together, these states provide $285,000 a year to the program, which is then matched by DU and further leveraged with North American Wetlands Conservation Act funding to conserve crucial waterfowl habitat on the breeding grounds.

But the backbone of DU's support comes from its highly dedicated volunteer fundraising network, which includes growing numbers of youth. The Southeast is home to DU's first Varsity chapter, founded at Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2004. That chapter's inaugural fundraising event, held in April 2005, raised $15,500 for the ducks. Today, Varsity and University chapters raise more than $1 million each year for DU's conservation work nationwide.

Perhaps more importantly, these volunteer fundraising events help develop the next generation of conservationists and unite them in a common endeavor. Many of these conscientious young people also serve on local adult chapters, filling DU's volunteer ranks with enthusiastic new committee members and leaders.

Ducks Unlimited is seeking to raise $49.5 million in public and philanthropic funds to achieve its conservation goals in the Southeast Wetlands Initiative area, including nearly $37 million from generous DU supporters like you. Funding derived from the initiative enables Ducks Unlimited to conduct research, public policy, and outreach efforts, and helps conserve important habitats for waterfowl that migrate and winter in these states. For more information on how you can support DU's Southeast Wetlands Initiative, visit ducks.org/DUinitiatives.

Based in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Andi Cooper is a biologist and communications specialist in DU's Southern Region.

DONOR PROFILE: MATT BALDING
Georgetown, South Carolina

South Carolina's Arcadia Plantation was created in 1906 when Dr. Isaac Emerson bought seven former rice plantations along the Waccamaw River near Georgetown. Emerson left the property to his grandson, George Vanderbilt, in 1931. Now it rests in the hands of Vanderbilt's daughter, Lucille Pate, and her children, Dawn Pate and Matt Balding.

In 2007, Mrs. Pate and her children continued a long history of land stewardship by protecting Arcadia Plantation with a conservation easement through DU's Wetlands America Trust. The 3,612-acre easement permanently protects some of the most historically and environmentally important wildlife habitat in South Carolina's Lowcountry.

"I grew up on this land, and it's in one of the highest development areas in the country," Matt said. "We wanted to see the property protected, and we felt like DU was the right choice to do that."

When he's not busy managing or enjoying the property, Matt tries to keep up with his wife, Eve, and two teenage daughters, Rett and Sara. Still, conservation is seldom far from his mind, and Matt finds the time to serve on the local Georgetown DU committee and DU's national Conservation Programs Committee. Arcadia Plantation and the family that owns it are recognized by DU as Wetland Guardian Major Sponsors. It's the willingness of people like Matt and his family to contribute their time, dollars, and land that makes DU the leader in wetlands conservation.