"We feel that grassland easements are needed to protect North Dakota's native grasses," Delbert says. "Once they are plowed up, they will never come back. Wildlife that thrives on these native grasses is very much at home alongside our cattle, horses, and sheep. If we don't protect our natural resources, they will be gone forever. This is a great program and should be used by anyone who cares about our natural resources."
Every dollar contributed to DU's Rescue the Duck Factory campaign will be leveraged at least three times with matching funds from corporations, federal duck stamps, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and other sources. At current land values, grassland easements can be purchased from cooperating ranchers at an average cost of $360 an acre. These easements are permanent and prevent grasslands from being plowed and wetlands from being drained regardless of future ownership.
But time is not on our side. The U.S. portion of the Prairie Pothole Region has already lost more than 70 percent of its original grassland, and most of the remaining 22 million acres of native prairie in the region are vulnerable to conversion. DU research has documented that duck nesting success declines as the proportion of grassland decreases on the landscape, especially when extensive tracts of grass become highly fragmented. If grassland losses continue at current rates, duck production will undoubtedly decline, with serious consequences for waterfowl populations. The highest breeding densities of several duck species including mallards, pintails, blue-winged teal, and gadwalls occur on the prairies.
"The large tracts of remaining native prairie in the Missouri Coteau represent the 'best of the best' waterfowl breeding habitat in the United States," says Dr. Steve Adair, director of DU's Great Plains Regional Office. "Acre for acre, this habitat raises more ducks than anywhere else, and duck production on these landscapes is vital to sustaining waterfowl populations at healthy levels. If we lose these landscapes, the ability of duck populations to surge when the prairies get wet will certainly diminish."