Going to the Source
Armed with an understanding of the key landscape features that influence duck nesting success, DU has developed conservation strategies specifically designed to address the birds' habitat needs. Clearly, protecting landscapes with high densities of intact wetlands surrounded by large tracts of perennial grassland or native aspen parkland is a top priority. Using wetland and waterfowl survey data collected by the USFWS and Canadian Wildlife Service along with cutting-edge land cover mapping technology, DU and key conservation partners like the USFWS have identified the most productive landscapes for breeding waterfowl across the Duck Factory. DU has also located tracts of remaining native prairie that are at particularly high risk of conversion to cropland. This information helps DU carefully target its conservation work in the most important places and ensures that every dollar contributed to DU provides the greatest return on the investment.
Perpetual conservation easements are a powerful tool used by DU, the USFWS, and other North American Waterfowl Management Plan partners to protect vital prairie habitats. Under these agreements, willing landowners donate or sell the right to cultivate their land, drain wetlands, and cut hay before the end of the waterfowl nesting season but retain all other rights on their property including the ability to raise livestock. The Missouri Coteau is one of the primary focus areas where DU and partners are working with landowners to protect vital waterfowl habitat. Hundreds of ranchers throughout Saskatchewan, North Dakota, and South Dakota have welcomed the opportunity to protect grasslands and wetlands on their property while maintaining their lifestyle and livelihood. Unfortunately, landowner demand for purchased easements currently exceeds available funding, but DU is dedicated to closing the funding gap and protecting this vital waterfowl habitat forever (see sidebar).
Supporting public policies that restore wetlands and grasslands is also an essential part of DU's conservation strategy on the prairies. In the United States, removing incentives for native prairie conversion (called Sodsaver in the last Farm Bill debate), increasing CRP acres in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region, and maintaining Swampbuster protections for wetlands in the Farm Bill are top priorities. In addition, restoring Clean Water Act protections for prairie potholes and other geographically isolated wetlands will be vital to sustaining waterfowl populations at levels that can support recent hunting regulations.
On prairie landscapes where perennial upland cover is limited, protecting wetlands with perpetual easements that prohibit drainage will help secure a large waterfowl habitat base for the future that hopefully includes extensive grasslands. DU is also working to expand winter wheat cultivation on the prairies, which holds great promise for increasing upland nesting cover on intensively farmed landscapes. (For more information, see "Winter Wheat: the Duck-Friendly Crop.")
Despite all the changes that have occurred in the Duck Factory, enough prairie waterfowl habitat still exists to yield fall duck populations similar to those of the 1950s and 1970s. Perhaps the most important question for us to address today is how much more habitat can be lost before duck population peaks will be permanently reduced? Regardless of the challenges, there is no place where achieving conservation success is more important to the health of North America's duck populations. And rest assured that DU will be actively engaged in the policy, science, and on-the-ground habitat work necessary to keep the skies filled with waterfowl raised on the prairies.
Prairie Conservation Supporters
Ducks Unlimited is proud to acknowledge the philanthropy and financial support of the following Major Sponsors and federal and state partners who have made a commitment of at least $100,000 in cash or other donations to either Grasslands for Tomorrow or the Rescue the Duck Factory initiative:
Richard C. Adkerson
John and Shirley Berry
The Bush Foundation
John W. Childs
The James M. Cox Foundation of GA Inc.
Raymond T. Dalio
Bill and Sarah D'Alonzo
M. Austin Davis Foundation
Paul and Beverly Dickson
Skipper and Cindy Dickson
Dave and Marg Grohne
David F. and Margaret T. Grohne Family Foundation
Elmer and Irene Grohne Memorial
Independence Tube Corporation
Lee Ann and Orrin H. Ingram II
Jim and Sarah Kennedy
The Seymour H. Knox Foundation Inc.
Bruce R. Lauritzen
MDU Resources Foundation
Richard King Mellon Foundation
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc.
North American Wetlands Conservation Council
North Dakota Natural Resources Trust
William and Alice Oehmig
Saf and Betty Peacock
Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation
Mark and Rebecca Pine Family
Cookie and T.R.* Potter Jr.
Dan and Linda Ray
Remington Outdoor Foundation
Richard and April Rice
The Spray Foundation Inc.
Mark and Lucy Stitzer
The Tucker Foundation
Turner Foundation Inc.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wal-Mart Acres for America
Susan and Dr. James Walton III
Waterfowl Research Foundation Inc.
Hope and David Welles Jr.