New enrollment guidelines will provide valuable nesting habitat, but significant challenges remain.
By now, most waterfowlers know of the valuable nesting habitat provided by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Under CRP, the federal government provides farmers with annual payments over a 10- or 15-year contract period, and in exchange, landowners restore grass and, in some cases, wetlands on marginal cropland. This restored habitat provides ideal nesting conditions for ducks. In fact, biologists estimate that more than 2 million additional ducks per year are hatched as a result of CRP in the Dakotas and Montana alone.
Unfortunately, 79 percent of the existing CRP acres in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) are set to expire during 2007-2010. In August, this scenario brightened a bit when John Johnson, the Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) deputy administrator for farm programs, announced that FSA is implementing a new practice, the Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative, specifically designed to benefit nesting waterfowl. Johnson made the announcement at the fourth annual North American Duck Symposium, a scientific conference cohosted by Ducks Unlimited.
The beauty of the Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative is that it focuses on cropland containing high densities of wetlands, and then further prioritizes those lands in areas with more than 25 breeding duck pairs per square mile. Most importantly, it allows landowners in these high duck density areas to enroll up to 10 acres of upland for every acre of wetland, as opposed to the four upland acres for one wetland acre ratio now required. Few farmers could qualify under the 4 to 1 ratio, so rather than “cookie-cutter” out their wetlands, they simply opted not to enroll in CRP. At the urging of DU and other partners, the FSA reconsidered their criteria and created the new practice.