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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Policy News: Vol. 2, Issue 47

Top stories for Nov. 23, 2010

DU applauds selection of Stabenow as chair of Senate Agriculture Committee

Debbie Stabenow
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) will be the next chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. (Photo from washingtonpost.com)

Ducks Unlimited is pleased with the announcement that Sen. Debbie Stabenow (MI) has been selected to become the next chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. The committee's work is critical to the long-term conservation of wetlands and waterfowl habitat.

Stabenow has extensive experience in crafting agricultural legislation. She served on agricultural committees in her home state of Michigan before doing the same in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

"The American people are fortunate to have an experienced leader in Debbie Stabenow," said Becky Humphries, incoming director of the Great Lakes and Atlantic Region for Ducks Unlimited. "I've seen her work close up during my time at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, and the senator is a no-nonsense advocate for agriculture, working lands and natural resources that are stewarded in our rural communities."

The Farm Bill provides significant resources for the conservation of wildlife habitat. Farm Bill programs include the Conservation Reserve Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and the Wetlands Reserve Program, among others, that have yielded great benefits to landowners and society at large. The next Farm Bill will renew in 2012, and stakeholders are working now to highlight the value of these important initiatives.

NRCS announces record enrollment in Wetlands Reserve Program

The Wetlands Reserve Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Native American tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use. (Photo: Robert Kalwas)

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has announced that the nation's farmers, ranchers and Native American tribes enrolled more than 272,000 acres in the Wetlands Reserve Program during fiscal year 2010, which is the highest single-year enrollment since the program began in 1990. There are more than 2.3 million acres enrolled in WRP nationwide.

WRP is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service and is the federal government's largest wetlands restoration program. The program is designed to provide technical and financial assistance to private landowners and Native American tribes to restore, protect and enhance wetlands that have been degraded or converted for agricultural use.

Ducks Unlimited has been a strong partner with NRCS in delivering WRP in several states throughout the country since the inception of the program. "WRP is our nation's most important wetland restoration program," said Dan Wrinn, director of public policy for DU. "We are pleased that under NRCS Chief Dave White's leadership and the dedication of NRCS staff across the country, WRP projects are benefiting waterfowl and other wildlife like never before."

Studies show the program significantly increases waterfowl populations, as well as other wildlife. It is estimated wetland acreage has decreased by half in the lower 48 states. In some states, more than 90 percent of wetlands have been lost, which makes every acre restored under WRP that much more important. Waterfowl and other plant and animal species depend on wetland habitats, which is why WRP is an integral program in the perpetuation of the waterfowling tradition.

"Through this historic enrollment in this proven conservation program, landowners and conservation partners are affirming their commitment to restoring and protecting the nation's wetland resources," Secretary Vilsack said. "Wetlands are essential to a healthy environment, and conservation-minded landowners are improving water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, mitigating floods and improving the environment for all Americans."

"This record enrollment affirms that our nation's farmers and ranchers are committed to preserving wetlands," Wrinn said. "As we move into the 2012 Farm Bill, we need to make sure WRP funding is protected and, if possible, expanded to meet the clear demand demonstrated by our partners in agriculture."

DU continues work on sustained funding for land conservation

Birds in flight
The Land and Water Conservation Fund funds the purchase of easements in the Prairie Pothole Region and provides nesting habitat for numerous species of waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds.

As the 111th Congress winds down, an important proposal remains stalled in Congress. The Land and Water Conservation Fund was created 45 years ago to address America's land conservation and habitat needs. The funding for LWCF comes from a portion of the revenues derived from offshore drilling leases located on federal land in the outer continental shelf. Only once since its inception has the program been funded as Congress intended.

Because of the crowded schedule in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives during the lame duck session, the LWCF full-funding language must be attached to another piece of legislation in order to be passed. As of today, the most likely scenario is to combine the full-funding language with the tax cut extension bill. However, as of right now, there is no certainty that the tax bill will be passed before the New Year.

LWCF is vitally important to sportsmen who value public hunting lands and access to those lands, and inclusion in the tax bill will give it the highest possible chance of passing during this Congress. Ducks Unlimited asks that you contact your congressmen and congresswomen and your senators and ask them to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund during the remainder of this session of Congress.

LWCF is an important habitat management tool that DU uses to protect critical areas for waterfowl. Most importantly, LWCF funds the purchase of easements in the prairie pothole regions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Minnesota. It provides nesting habitat for numerous species of waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds.

DU is working with other sportsmen conservation groups like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Boone and Crockett Club and Pheasants Forever in supporting legislation that would provide dedicated full funding for LWCF so that habitat needs may be better met. However, now that the Congress is coming to a close, time is running out to get a bill passed.

Program funds are often targeted to acquire key wildlife habitats, national parks and forests and to pay for state and local recreation areas. The bill currently being considered by Congress would also provide increased access to the public on previously inaccessible public lands.


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