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NAWCA Turns 20

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By Neil Shader

During the past two decades, this popular program has conserved more than 24 million acres of prime waterfowl habitat

Few people have accomplished much by the time they are 20 years old. While the occasional child prodigy hits it big, most of us are just embarking on our adult lives. But the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year, has conserved 24.4 million acres of prime waterfowl habitat. And thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress as well as support from Ducks Unlimited volunteers and staff, this program is more successful than ever.

Signed into law in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush, NAWCA was implemented to fulfill the U.S. portion of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NAWCA projects have been completed in all 50 states, as well as throughout Canada and Mexico. NAWCA’s success is driven by partnerships involving federal, state, and local governments; nonprofit organizations like DU; and community groups. Every federal dollar provided by NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from nonfederal sources. Because the program is so effective, NAWCA funds are usually tripled or quadrupled on the local level. In 2008,  $84.4 million in federal dollars were allotted to NAWCA, leveraging many times that amount in matching funds.

NAWCA plays a major role in conserving habitat in DU’s high priority regions across North America. In the United States, this program has conserved almost 1.6 million acres of wetlands and grasslands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, where many of the ducks in the United States are raised. NAWCA projects also provide wintering habitat for waterfowl in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and along the Gulf Coast, where the program is helping to restore and enhance coastal wetlands lost to hurricanes and erosion. Other areas of the United States where NAWCA projects have been completed include Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin, California’s Central Valley, the Great Lakes, and Chesapeake Bay. Outside the United States, NAWCA has conserved millions of acres of prime waterfowl breeding habitat on the Canadian prairies, and in Mexico, wintering habitat conserved by NAWCA supports large numbers of pintails and other migratory waterfowl.

Ducks Unlimited supports NAWCA in many ways. Each year, DU works with members of Congress to circulate a letter of support to the House and Senate Interior Appropriations Committees, which determine NAWCA funding levels. DU’s NAWCA letter for fiscal year 2009 was signed by more than 200 members of Congress—142 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 60 in the Senate. (See the July/August 2008 issue for the full list.) DU volunteers who call and e-mail their members of Congress in support of NAWCA are vital to the success of this effort.

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