by Chad Manlove
Wetlands along the Gulf Coast comprise one of North America’s most important wintering areas for waterfowl. The Ducks Unlimited International Conservation Plan identifies this region as one of five highest priority areas for wetlands and waterfowl conservation. The region has suffered extensive loss of feeding and resting habitat for waterfowl, and these losses have been exacerbated by declines in rice production on the coastal prairies. The rice prairies are well known among waterfowlers for large concentrations of lesser snow and white-fronted geese, as well as pintails.
Once tallgrass coastal prairie, the area has been almost entirely converted to agriculture, dominated in recent times by rice production. Waterfowl have adapted well to this land-use change and readily feed on waste rice in harvested, flooded fields. But a number of factors including higher production costs and changes in federal farm programs have caused a fairly rapid decline (nearly 60 percent in some areas) in land dedicated to rice farming. Generally, rice land has been converted to agricultural crops that have less value to waterfowl or has been abandoned completely and invaded by nonnative Chinese tallow trees and other woody vegetation.
To address the increasing loss of waterfowl habitat, DU helped initiate the Texas Prairie Wetlands Project (TPWP). This private lands program was formed in 1991 with goals that support the habitat objectives of the Gulf Coast Joint Venture of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. The TPWP is a cooperative effort between DU, private landowners, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. This partnership was established to help private cooperators restore, enhance, and protect shallow-water wetlands throughout a 28-county focus area along the Texas Gulf Coast.