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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Policy News: Vol. 3, Issue 5

Top stories for Feb. 1, 2011
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DU supports strengthening hunting tradition with additional funding for Open Fields

Open Fields Program
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently said the Open Fields program, which gives landowners another incentive to share with hunters the habitat they're conserving, will receive additional funding in 2011. (member photo courtesy Brent Gale)
Supporters of America's rich hunting tradition have received good news, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture assured continued funding for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program, also known as "Open Fields." Through this program, landowners can receive a financial incentive in exchange for opening lands to the public for outdoor recreation. 

"These additional federal funds for the Open Fields program give landowners yet another incentive to share with hunters the habitat they're conserving and encourage landowners to use best-management practices for maintaining that habitat," said Scott Yaich, DU director of conservation operations. "Hunters provide a significant amount of funding needed for conservation, so any program that encourages this rich tradition will ultimately result in healthier habitats. It's a win-win for everyone."

Approved in the 2008 Farm Bill, Open Fields was already slated to provide $50 million for states to create or expand voluntary hunter-access programs on private lands. DU supported the measure in Congress and has worked to obtain funding for it. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said public access programs in 2011 will receive additional grants totaling $8 million toward the $50 million total, which is available for three years through the program. Estimates are Open Fields could open more than 4 million new acres of private land to public hunting and fishing annually. 

Twenty-six states currently have public access programs for hunting, fishing and other related activities. DU encourages sportsmen to ask their state and tribal governments to apply for 2011 funding through the federal government's grants portal to the Farm Service Agency for consideration.


DU volunteers, staff attend South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus luncheon


At a luncheon organized by the South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus, state Rep. Mike Pitts recognized DU as a strong 
conservation force in the state. (photo courtesy cbsnews.com)
Several DU volunteers and staff attended a luncheon Jan. 19 organized by the South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus in Columbia, S.C. Ducks Unlimited was represented by: Bill Short—DU board member at-large; Andy Stevenson—South Carolina state chairman; Don Manley—Region 7 director of fundraising and volunteer relations; Nate Schnetzler—regional director; and James Meadows—regional director.

The Caucus provides state legislators and those with outdoor interests an opportunity to discuss policy decisions designed to enhance wildlife resources and hunting and fishing activities in South Carolina. The South Carolina Sportsmen's Caucus is a member of the National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses, which provides a venue for exchange of ideas between state caucus leaders, sportsmen's groups, industry, media and other organizations.

State Rep. Mike Pitts, who chairs the caucus, recognized DU for its work to promote conservation and outdoors interests in the state, and DU's representatives had a chance to mingle with legislators and let them know what DU is doing in South Carolina to help waterfowl and hunters. 

"This luncheon was a valuable opportunity for DU to join with state legislators and make sure they know we need their help in the policy arena as we strive to conserve more habitats in the state," said Craig LeSchack, DU's director of conservation programs for the South Atlantic Flyway. "It gave our DU attendees the opportunity to point out the great partnership we have with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the South Carolina Conservation Bank, partnerships that are integral to making conservation a powerful force in any state."


DU thanks state of Louisiana for $2 million support of marsh restoration project


DU Manager of Conservation Programs Bob Dew presents Scott Angelle, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, and Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, with decoys in recognition of the state's contributions to DU's Black Lake Terracing Project.
Staff from DU's Southern Region attended the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meeting in Lake Charles, La., last week to thank the state for its $2 million support of the Black Lake Terracing Project. This project restored marsh on four separate sites, including areas on the Cameron Prairie National Wildlife Refuge. With the support of multiple state, federal, corporate, nonprofit and other private partners, DU built more than 50 miles of marsh terraces to restore 2,500 acres of vital marsh habitat. 

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority's mandate is to develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive coastal protection and restoration master plan for Louisiana

"The state of Louisiana stepped up in a big way to help make this project possible," said Bob Dew, DU's manager of conservation programs for Louisiana. "With the state's $2 million investment and the support of all of our partners, it's a great example of teamwork resulting in a big win for coastal restoration."


USDA to hold general CRP sign-up for second consecutive year


USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the USDA will hold a general CRP sign-up for the second consecutive year. (member photo courtesy Chad Bell)
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the next general signup for the Conservation Reserve Program will begin March 14, 2011, and continue through April 15, 2011, marking the second consecutive year that USDA has offered a general CRP signup. 

CRP provides a secure income to farmers, ranchers and other landowners as an incentive to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to resource-conserving vegetative cover, such as tame or native grasses, wildlife plantings, trees, filter strips or riparian buffers. CRP improves water quality, prevents soil erosion and provides vital nesting cover for ducks and other wildlife.

"This is great news for wetlands conservation, waterfowl habitat, waterfowl and waterfowl hunters," said DU CEO Dale Hall. "Maintaining CRP acres will translate into more ducks in the fall flight across the country each year."

CRP provides critical upland nesting cover for ducks in the United States portion of the Prairie Pothole Region, one of DU's highest conservation priority areas. Both native grassland and CRP continue to decline at alarming rates across the PPR. More than 1.5 million acres of CRP have disappeared from the PPR since 2007. Another 2.4 million acres are scheduled to expire from September 30, 2011, to September 30, 2012.

Ducks Unlimited is among several conservation organizations that have signed a partnership agreement with USDA to actively recruit farmers and landowners to enroll in CRP. 

"Over the past 25 years, support for CRP has grown thanks to strong backing from farmers, ranchers, conservationists, hunters, fishermen and other outdoor sports enthusiasts," said Vilsack. "Not only has CRP contributed to the national effort to improve water and air quality, it has preserved habitat for wildlife, and prevented soil erosion by protecting the most sensitive areas including those prone to flash flooding and runoff. Today's announcement continues the Obama Administration's effort to conserve sensitive areas and improve wildlife habitat."


DU uses Farm Bill easement program to protect critical rice land habitat in California


DU Real Estate Specialist Joe Navari uses the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to purchase agricultural easements on winter flooded rice fields, which provide resting and foraging habitat for many birds and ducks, including northern pintails. (photo courtesy nature.com)
The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program is a USDA program that DU's Western Regional Office has used to purchase valuable agricultural easements. The program has been refined and now includes a certification process to streamline and extend cooperative agreements with land trusts and agencies that hold at least 25 agricultural easements, and five FRPP easements. FRPP provides matching funds for land trusts and government entities to acquire conservation easements to keep productive farm and ranch lands in agricultural use. Program funding was $150 million in FY 2010 and is slated to grow to $200 million by FY 2012, unless Congress implements budget cuts.

"The WRO has used FRPP to purchase agricultural easements on winter flooded rice fields, which provide resting and foraging habitat for many birds and ducks, including northern pintails," said Joe Navari, a real estate specialist at the WRO. "These lands also provide a buffer to wetlands located on state wildlife areas and national wildlife refuges, making it a valuable resource for DU's easement acquisition program." 

Most recently, DU, the California Department of Conservation, a landowner and FRPP partnered to purchase an easement that protected 300 acres of rice lands directly adjacent to the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge near Yuba City, Calif. The program has been useful for habitat conservation in targeted areas. Unfortunately, it's slated to expire unless renewed in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill legislation.


DU and partners ask state of California, DOI to consider wetlands, waterfowl during water crisis


DU and partners signed a letter asking the state of California and the U.S. Department of the Interior to consider wetlands and waterfowl amidst California's water crisis. (member photo courtesy Kim Taylor)
With California's Central Valley and Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers Delta facing serious ecological and water supply and quality problems, Ducks Unlimited has stepped up on behalf of the region's waterfowl and wetland habitats. Mark Biddlecomb, director of DU's Western Regional Office in Sacramento, Calif., signed a letter addressed to California Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar urging the state and DOI to consider the negative impacts some proposed solutions could pose for migratory bird habitats throughout the state and the entire Pacific Flyway. 

DU signed the letter with several California organizations supportive of waterfowl conservation in the state—California Rice Commission, California Waterfowl Association, Grasslands Water District, Northern California Water Association, and the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority—that are concerned over proposed efforts to solve the water issue, efforts that focus almost exclusively on improving conditions for fish in the Delta while discounting potential negative impacts on Central Valley terrestrial, wetland and aquatic habitats. 

State Water Resources Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Game proposed stream flow increases, which could degrade considerable habitat both north and south of the Delta. The proposed reallocation of millions of acre-feet of water away from the Sacramento Valley to increase flows in the Delta would remove millions of acre-feet of water previously used to irrigate farmlands, manage wetlands and provide water supplies for six National Wildlife Refuges and more than 50 state wildlife areas.

"In the San Joaquin Valley, wetland habitats still have not received their full water supply allocations, and it has become increasingly difficult to locate new sources of affordable water," Biddlecomb said. "The current proposal would make that situation more severe. Hopefully, this letter will encourage the state and DOI to direct resources in a manner that isn't detrimental to wetlands and the hundreds of species, including waterfowl that depend on them."
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