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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Prairies Under Siege: Ducks, Habitat Conservation & Predators

A closer look at large-scale predator-control programs reveals that they are counterproductive to the long-term benefits of waterfowl and waterfowl hunters
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"The stage is set," Wentz adds, "and important gains are being made, but the challenges are huge and changing every day. This is not the time to sacrifice any of these hard-fought gains by diverting resources and attention away from this effort. It took decades of successful efforts by millions of people to get to this point. Taking resources from habitat conservation for predator control threatens to weaken these foundations of waterfowl conservation. Remember that habitat conservation coupled with normal moisture conditions have enabled waterfowl populations to attain their highest levels since the 1950s—without predator control."

Also, picture launching all-out predator control programs against foxes, raccoons, and skunks over large portions of the Prairie Pothole Region during the spring and summer, when their pelts are worthless and their young are helpless and would starve without their parents. Disturbingly for those of us who love to hunt, the antihunting, antitrapping, and animal-rights groups on society's fringes could have volatile new fuel for their positions. Furthermore, it would be disastrous to lose the support of the nonhunting (not the antihunting) majority of the general public that support modern wildlife conservation programs and who can influence wildlife-friendly legislation.

This is why DU leaders know that the most important thing DU can do is to secure existing habitat and increase it wherever it has the opportunity. Waterfowl habitat is still under relentless siege. Sea level rise, expansion of agriculture in critical waterfowl areas, urban sprawl, contamination of the continent's waterways, growth of extraction industries in previously untouched regions of the continent, and detrimental public policy are all major concerns. And, despite all the progress made in wetlands conservation programs and policy, including the last three administrations' "no net loss of wetlands" policies, the U.S. alone still loses more than 100,000 acres of wetlands each year. New additional threats to the wetland habitat base include a U.S. Supreme Court decision that changes wetland protection measures under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which may leave countless numbers of isolated wetlands important to breeding waterfowl open to drainage and filling. Also, unprecedented conversion of highly productive grassland nesting cover to row-crop production is occurring in the heart of the Prairie Pothole Region.

There are regions of the breeding grounds that have good wetland densities but very poor upland nesting, and these types of places are where predator control seems to make the most sense. However, the trade-off between spending limited funds on short-term gains from predator control and long-term securement of the habitat base is a non-starter. We must not divert funds from securing high-quality habitats that are under threat to efforts supporting predator-control programs on habitats of marginal quality: The urgency of securing the habitat base that has produced the greatest recovery of waterfowl populations in the 20th century is simply too great. This is the legacy that we have a chance to leave for our children and grandchildren. There is no legacy in predator control—especially given that it diverts funds and attention away from the core issue of long-term waterfowl conservation: habitat.

Ducks Unlimited's conservation vision is for viable wetlands and waterfowl populations that support hunting and other uses forever. This is a daunting task, and it will only be achieved if our collective energies are successfully directed towards securing the habitats that will support the birds everywhere they live.

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