By Steve Adair, Ph.D., and Neil Shader
Pintails raised on tundra ponds in Alaska take flight with September’s first bitter winds, traveling south to California’s Central Valley where they settle on recently restored shallow wetlands. A mallard hen, after successfully raising her brood in the grasslands of the Dakotas, retreats to the flooded timber of the Mississippi Delta with December’s advancing ice and snow. Canvasbacks reared on prairie potholes splash down on newly established wild celery beds near rehabilitated tributaries of Chesapeake Bay. What do these birds have in common? They all depend on America’s farmers and ranchers during some phase of their annual cycle.
The composition and management of our nation’s agricultural lands greatly affect duck populations. Most important are the grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and America’s diverse array of wetlands. PPR grasslands provide quality nesting cover for breeding waterfowl, and wetlands nourish birds throughout their migratory cycle. That’s why Ducks Unlimited’s staff, volunteers, and partners invest so much time and energy in the Farm Bill. DU’s approach to the Farm Bill is pragmatic: We realize that quality cropland will be devoted to providing food, fiber, and fuel for our nation. We also realize that not all ground is suitable for crop production. Some of it is too rocky, steep, wet, or dry to reliably produce a crop; hence, DU’s commonsense approach of “Farm the Best and Conserve the Rest.”
During the past six years, Ducks Unlimited has worked with Congress and the administration to maintain and strengthen Farm Bill provisions that benefit waterfowl. While the Farm Bill passed this May by the House and Senate contains some positive elements, when evaluated in its entirety, it is a step backwards for waterfowl, grasslands, and wetlands. Key conservation programs were either reduced from previous levels or rendered ineffective by program rules. Here’s how the new Farm Bill affects the habitats vital to waterfowl.