GRP and incentives for cellulosic ethanol will likely protect and restore several thousand acres of prairie grassland over the life of the new Farm Bill. However, these programs are not large enough to offset the combination of millions of acres of native prairie that will be lost if Sodsaver is not adopted by PPR governors and millions of acres of grassland that will be lost from CRP.
The net result is a significant loss of nesting cover in the most important breeding area for North America’s waterfowl. To help counter these changes, Ducks Unlimited will elevate the importance of its other prairie habitat programs to help maintain the region’s duck production capacity.
Healthy and abundant wetlands are vital to North America’s waterfowl. They nourish breeding hens, provide food and cover for broods, and sustain adult birds across their migration and wintering grounds. Since settlement, the United States, excluding Alaska and Hawaii, has lost 54 percent of its original wetlands. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, almost half a million acres of wetlands were being lost annually with cropland conversion accounting for more than 430,000 acres per year. The wetland loss rate has now slowed to about 80,000 acres per year. The lower 48 states currently contain 105 million acres of wetlands. After many years of losing wetlands, our national strategy now is to achieve a net gain in wetland area. Programs in the Farm Bill that discourage wetland drainage and incentivize wetland restoration have been important in pursuing this net gain goal.
One of the most successful programs for restoring wetlands during the past 18 years has been the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). WRP pays wetland restoration costs and provides landowners an easement payment to protect this habitat either for 30 years or in perpetuity. WRP has been extremely popular, and landowner interest has exceeded program availability by 3 to 1. Almost 2 million acres have been enrolled in the program nationwide since inception, most of which are wetlands protected in perpetuity. WRP, like GRP, had expired and was reauthorized in the new Farm Bill. While the 2002 Farm Bill authorized enrollment of up to 250,000 WRP acres per year, the 2008 bill reduced that authority to 153,000 acres per year.