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World Leader in Wetlands Conservation

Policy News: Vol. 3, Issue 7

Top Stories for Feb. 22, 2011
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DU voices strong opposition to massive federal conservation spending cuts

budget cuts

Ducks Unlimited is opposing proposed spending cuts in conservation programs being recommended by the U.S. House of Representatives that would affect wetlands conservation to the tune of nearly $2 billion.
Ducks Unlimited, along with other conservation organizations, is opposing proposed spending cuts in conservation programs being recommended by the U.S. House of Representatives. The cuts would affect wetlands conservation to the tune of nearly $2 billion, including the loss of $47 million in funding for North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants. The proposed cuts would eliminate all NAWCA funding and also eliminate the match for a total loss of $200 million in habitat work.

"The cuts being proposed could imperil waterfowl populations and the future of the waterfowl hunting tradition in America," said DU CEO Dale Hall. "What's being proposed by the House of Representatives would cripple conservation efforts as we know them," Hall said. "Elimination of NAWCA, an 81 percent reduction of acquisition for refuges and seriously reducing many other programs so vital to our mission are proposals DU strongly opposes."

Hall said DU is especially concerned about specific cuts, all of which will adversely affect waterfowl hunters and other conservationists:
  1. Appropriations to fund NAWCA grants would be zeroed out —NAWCA is the primary source of funding for the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and has generated more than $4.4 billion in habitat across North America during the past 20 years. NAWCA grants, along with significant matching funds from the private sector, have helped conserve more than 25 million acres of habitat in North America. These are acres critical to waterfowl, water, conservation and people.
  2. The budget actions would put a halt to much needed efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections to important shallow wetlands, including those in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota and South Dakota, also known as America's "Duck Factory" because of its importance to breeding waterfowl. 
  3. Funds would be dramatically reduced for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land acquisition including lands in the Prairie Pothole Region for waterfowl conservation.
  4. State Wildlife Grants that provide more than $90 million to conserve wildlife habitat would also be zeroed out.
The NAWCA grants are especially valuable, Hall said, as evidenced by the president's budget recommendations that were released on February 14 in which the administration has requested increased NAWCA funds.

"If these cuts and actions take place," Hall said, "waterfowl, waterfowl hunters and wetlands conservation would lose in a big way. In short, these actions would adversely affect all of us who care about, and have funded, wetlands and waterfowl conservation. We should remember, conservation in America pays for itself through the economic return from hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts."

Click here to see this release on the Ducks Unlimited website.

President announces plan for America's Great Outdoors Initiative

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Former DU president John Tomke, chairman of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, represented Ducks Unlimited at a briefing the president held to address plans for his America's Great Outdoors initiative.
Telling America's hunters and anglers his new program would directly benefit their outdoor activities, the president briefed the media last week at the White House on his America's Great Outdoors Initiative, a program designed to achieve lasting conservation of the outdoor spaces that power the nation's economy, shape the country's culture and build our outdoor traditions.

Former DU president John Tomke, chairman of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council, represented Ducks Unlimited at the briefing. "The AGO program discussed by the president has the potential for significant impact on the conservation landscapes of the U.S., including full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund," Tomke said.

Tomke met with the president prior to the briefing. Tomke was appointed chairman of the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council last year by U. S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. 

The president touched on several issues concerning conservation and the future of outdoor recreation. The following strategic steps within the AGO program were discussed: 
  • Fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which directs federal revenue from oil and gas extraction for national, state and local conservation and recreation projects. LWCF funds are used to acquire conservation easements in the Prairie Pothole Region.
  • Establishing a 21st century Conservation Service Corps to engage young Americans in public lands and water restoration. 
  • Extending enhanced tax deductibility for conservation easement donations on private lands beyond 2011. 
  • Establishing an America's Great Outdoors National Recreational Blueways Trails initiative to designate community-scale portions of rivers as recreational destinations that receive special attention for restoration and access. 
  • Supporting collaborative efforts to conserve large landscapes across working lands by targeting resources from incentive-based programs. 
  • Increasing outdoor recreational opportunities and access. 
  • Establishing an interagency America's Great Outdoors Council to ensure federal agencies collaborate efficiently on conservation and recreation strategies. 
  • Launching the Partnership for America's Great Outdoors, a non-governmental body that will focus on forming strategic conservation partnerships across communities, businesses and governments. 
  • Partnering with communities throughout the country to establish and expand urban parks and green spaces and to build on large landscape conservation projects. 

DU supports Senate bill that would make tax relief permanent for conservation donations

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Sens. Max Baucus (MT) and Chuck Grassley (IA) have introduced legislation that would extend income tax relief for landowners who donate land for conservation.
Farmers and ranchers wanting to donate conservation easements are likely to support a new bill that would extend income tax relief for landowners who donate land for conservation.

Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (MT) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) have introduced legislation that would permanently extend a charitable deduction for up to 100 percent of adjusted gross income. Also under the proposed "Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act of 2011," the maximum tax deduction for charitable contributions of conservation easements would be increased from 30 percent to 50 percent of adjusted gross income.

"This bill rewards ranchers and farmers in Montana and across the country who want to conserve our land and preserve open space for their kids and grandkids," Baucus said in a statement.

In 2006, Baucus and Grassley first introduced legislation to create such an enhanced conservation tax deduction as part of the Pension Protection Act. The provision was extended through 2011 in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010.

In 2009, the senators also introduced a bill to make the deduction, which expires at the end of 2011, permanent.

"The passage of this legislation would result in more easement gifts for DU, which translates into more quality habitat on the ground and more waterfowl in the sky," said Scott Sutherland, director of DU's Governmental Affairs office in Washington, D.C. "We will be working with members of Congress to ensure this legislation receives the support needed for passage."

Coalition of conservation groups urges Congress to maintain funding for successful Great Lakes programs 

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A coalition of conservation groups has called on the U.S. Congress to maintain funding for successful Great Lakes programs, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has called on the U.S. Congress to maintain funding for successful Great Lakes programs that protect drinking water, safeguard public health, create jobs and uphold a way of life for millions of people. 

One of these programs, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, has aided many of DU's conservation efforts in the Great Lakes region by providing essential project funding. GLRI was proposed by the president to address the most serious issues that face the Great Lakes − a resource that more than 30 million people depend on for their drinking water. Loss of habitat, invasive species, nonpoint source pollution, and toxic sediments threaten the health and economic well being of residents and damages the United States' largest freshwater resource.

"Great Lakes restoration efforts supported by the federal government are improving the lives of millions of Americans in the Great Lakes region," said Jeff Skelding, campaign director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. "Restoration programs deliver results and offer some of the best returns on the dollar in the federal budget. Cutting Great Lakes funds only stalls action, making the problems worse and more costly to solve. We urge Congress to fund the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative at $300 million in 2011 to protect our drinking water, public health, jobs and way of life."

In 2010, with support from Congress, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative injected $475 million into solutions to prevent polluted run-off, clean up toxic sediments, control invasive species and restore habitat and wetlands. President Obama requested $300 for the current fiscal year, which runs through September 30.

"Restoration projects deliver results," said Gildo Tori, director of public policy for the Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office of Ducks Unlimited. "The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is helping to advance solutions project by project, community by community. We need to be sharing these successes and replicating them across the region—not cutting them."

DU joins NWF in urging USFWS to make restoration priority at NWR in Montana

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Ducks Unlimited recently joined NWF in signing a letter asking USFWS to make wetland management a priority as it develops its comprehensive conservation plan for the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. (photo courtesy montanausapride.com)
Ducks Unlimited recently joined the National Wildlife Federation in signing a letter asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make wetland management a priority as it develops its comprehensive conservation plan for the Benton Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Montana. During much of the last five decades, Benton Lake has been one of the most important breeding and staging wetlands in Montana for waterfowl, shorebirds and prairie nesting bird species. 

According to current proposed management plans, USFWS has proposed to address deteriorating water quality problems – caused by increased amounts of the chemical selenium entering the water − by breeching the dikes and curtailing the pumping of supplemental water into the refuge. However, selenium will continue to be a problem in the watershed and, hence, on the refuge. In keeping with current USFWS policies that emphasize conservation at the landscape level, DU and NWF urged USFWS to develop a proactive watershed strategy that addresses the selenium issue through partnerships with landowners. 

"We have lost more than half our wetlands here in Montana," explained Bob Sanders, DU's manager of conservation programs. "We need to be able to intensively manage critical waterfowl areas such as Benton Lake to maximize water bird habitat potential to help make up for that loss. Removing infrastructure and curtailing pumping of water to the refuge will likely provide suitable waterfowl habitat in three or four out of every 20 years. We need to do better than that while still keeping a close eye on wetland health over the long term." Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks along with local sportsmen's groups and private citizens have expressed similar concerns over the management changes proposed by USFWS. 

The letter also asked USFWS to ensure its proposal would adjust its plans on how and when USFWS pumps supplemental water into the refuge. "Pumping to the same wetland basins in late summer does not promote ecological diversity nor produce the emergent vegetation and invertebrate populations needed by breeding and staging waterfowl and other wildlife species," Sanders said. "In our letter, DU and NWF encouraged USFWS to examine different water management strategies and the costs associated with each so that everyone can evaluate the most effective and cost-efficient approach to meeting USFWS fish and wildlife objectives."

DU co-hosts reception for Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation in Washington, D.C.

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Ducks Unlimited co-hosted a "Welcome to Congress" reception for The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation as it celebrated the return of members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus to Washington, D.C., for the 112th Congress.
Ducks Unlimited co-hosted a "Welcome to Congress" reception for The Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation as it celebrated the return of members of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus to Washington, D.C., for the 112th Congress.

Thirty members of the U.S. Congress gathered with more than 150 hunting, fishing and conservation leaders, policy makers and industry representatives for this yearly event, which introduces newly elected representatives to the CSC as well as welcome past and present members. This year's reception focused on legislative issues of concern to sportsmen coming up in the 112th Congress and served as an opportunity for the sportsmen's community to meet their elected representatives in Washington. 

"There are many caucuses on Capitol Hill, but the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus is the largest, most active and effective caucus in Washington, and this event is a vivid illustration of our shared commitment to this nation's outdoor heritage," said CSC Senate Co-Chair Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. 

"Co-hosting this reception afforded DU a great opportunity to show our support of all the work the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus does each year on behalf of sportsmen-conservationists around the nation," said Bart James, director of public policy at DU's Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C.

Change to wetlands law in Wisconsin sets dangerous precedent throughout state

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A bill recently signed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker allowing a developer to build on a wetland near Lambeau Field sets a dangerous precedent for wetlands conservation in the state.
The Wisconsin state legislature recently passed a bill to allow a developer to build on a wetland near Lambeau Field in Ashwaubenon, Wis., even though the retailer courted for the spot has said it won't build on such a property. Gov. Scott Walker, who first proposed the idea, quickly signed the bill after its passage in the legislature.

Last month, Walker wrote a bill that would allow a project in that part of the state to sidestep a standard water quality review by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The bill would help the development near Lambeau Field, but few, if any, other projects.
Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops had preliminary discussions with a developer about building a store on the site, but last week announced it would not build on a wetland.

"Though this legislation change only applies to one piece of property, it sets a very bad precedent for protecting wetlands from development in Wisconsin," said Gildo Tori, director of public policy at DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office in Ann Arbor, Mich. "Wisconsin is a very significant waterfowl production state, and this change could greatly affect the quality and availability of waterfowl habitat throughout Wisconsin down the line."

Ducks Unlimited provided written testimony against the bill in both the state house and senate and joined with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and a coalition of conservation groups to fight the bill.

Ducks Unlimited regional director urges Nebraska legislators to keep valuable state conservation grant program intact

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DU Regional Director Steve Wilson told Nebraska state legislators a proposal to eliminate the Nebraska Environmental Trust would take away the state's most significant conservation grant program.
Steve Wilson, a Nebraska Ducks Unlimited regional director, recently told state legislators a proposal to eliminate the Nebraska Environmental Trust would take away the state's most significant conservation grant program. The proposal would take away the trust's $15 million-a-year funding from lottery proceeds and split it between the Innovation Campus of the University of Nebraska and a state water resources fund.

Wilson said NET funds allow DU to bring millions of additional dollars to the state to spend on waterfowl habitat in Nebraska. The bill to get rid of NET is one of several seeking to curb the trust fund's spending on conservation. Other proposed legislation would divert half of NET's dollars to help pay off the state's obligation to a multi-state river agreement. Still other anti-conservation legislation would, among other things, limit conservation easements to 10 years, require local county commission approval for conservation easements and restrict the use of NET funds for public land acquisitions.

"DU's conservation projects in Nebraska are focused in the Rainwater Basin and along the Platte River," Wilson said. "These two wetland ecosystems provide critically important habitat to tens of millions of waterfowl each year, primarily during migration periods. Nebraska cannot afford to see this valuable conservation grant program taken away. DU is doing everything it can to fight against the proposed change."
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