With your support Ducks Unlimited is facing this daunting challenge head on. Through the Grassland for Tomorrow Initiative, Ducks Unlimited has pledged to perpetually protect 2,000,000 acres of native prairie for future generations to experience and enjoy. Two million acres is one of the most ambitions conservation initiatives ever undertaken-the goals are high, because the stakes are high. Failure to save these prairie acres is to usher the in demise of diverse plant and animal life dependent upon this unique ecoregion. This is not pessimism, but a call to action before it is too late.
Perpetual protection of native prairie is achieved through perpetual grassland & wetland easements, land purchases, and donated conservation easements. These approaches are always directed at willing landowners.
In cases where property is not for sale or the landowner is not in a position to donate a conservation easement, opportunities to sell perpetual grassland easements will be offered. In exchange for a one-time payment equating to approximately one-fourth of the land's value, landowners enter into legal agreements that prevent grasslands being placed under easement from ever being plowed. Grassland easements are compatible with livestock production and allow the land to remain in private ownership. Terms of the grassland easements allow grazing, but limit the timing of haying to protect birds during the nesting season. An important side benefit of grassland easements is that little incentive exists to drain or alter wetlands within the area covered by the grassland easement because of wetlands' value to livestock. Nonetheless, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also purchase permanent easements on all wetlands encompassed by the grassland easements to ensure the protection of the entire prairie complex.
Grassland easements are bought with money donated to Ducks Unlimited, but the easements are monitored and enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ranchers view grassland easements positively because easements offer financial relief at a time of low economic return in the ranching industry. For the conservationist, grassland easements offer the most cost-effective way to secure the last remaining Prairie Pothole Region habitat in North America.
In locations where wildlife habitat has been degraded and the land is for sale, Ducks Unlimited will seek to acquire land. 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. Funds recovered through the subsequent sale of land will be re-directed to new purchases. The Grasslands for Tomorrow goal is to hold approximately 7,500 acres of property at any one time. Restored lands would be sold within three to four years.
Donated conservation easements provide unique opportunities to protect private lands when the landowner is in a financial position to donate property rights and cover costs associated with annual monitoring. Ducks Unlimited accepts easements in perpetuity and agrees to annually monitor the property to ensure the terms of the easement are followed and the conservation values of the land are maintained.
As part of the donated easement partnership, landowners receive technical assistance from Ducks Unlimited on how to perform conservation-friendly land management. Additionally, the landowner donating an easement often recognizes substantial tax advantages as a result of the donation.
In locations where valuable, intact habitat is at imminent risk but the landowner is not willing to consider an easement, Ducks Unlimited may seek to acquire the property . Once purchased, grasslands and wetlands are restored and conservation easements placed on the land so as to perpetually protect important resource values. During the period of DU’s ownership, the public is welcome to hunt and enjoy the properties. When restoration is complete and easements are in place, the land is re-sold to a wildlife agency or a private individual who shares DU's interest in protecting the prairie's natural values. Previous buyers have included agencies who wanted the land for a state or federal wildlife area, ranchers who needed pasture and were willing to abide by the terms of the easement, and individuals who were interested in the land primarily for its conservation or recreational values. Funds recovered through the subsequent sale of land are deposited in a revolving fund, which can be tapped for new acquisitions. Using this approach, 150,000 acres will be secured as part of Grasslands for Tomorrow.
Wetland restoration has always been an important program in Ducks Unlimited, and it remains a vital part of Grasslands for Tomorrow. DU engineers are among the best in the world at restoring the functions and values of wetlands, which include not only waterfowl habitat but also floodwater retention, groundwater recharge, water purification, and other ecological goods and services. DU strategically restores wetlands in landscapes where nesting cover is adequate to ensure good nesting success. Most large restoration projects incorporate water control capabilities that enable landowners or agency personnel to enhance the productivity of the wetland through water level manipulation. Smaller projects may entail simple procedures such as ditch plugs. Because aquatic seeds may persist in wetland soils for years or even decades, the aquatic system rebounds quickly once hydrology is restored.
Ducks Unlimited also assists with re-establishment of grasslands on former crop fields. Plantings may include easy-to-establish, cool season exotic grasses that are attractive to nesting ducks, or more difficult-to-establish native plant species. When grasslands will be permanently protected, native species are preferred because they are more attractive to a variety of birds and mammals, and require less maintenance in the long term.
In rare instances, DU projects may involve intensive management techniques such as nesting islands, predator exclusion fences, nesting structures, or other techniques. In the current environment where habitat is being lost quickly but can be protected relatively inexpensively, expenditures on expensive “intensive management” techniques are made very selectively. Typically, such investments may be made where several partners want to cost-share the expense, and implementing intensive management will result in a significant, incremental return on a new of existing investment.