Protecting prairie potholes and other wetlands
Wetlands such as those in the Prairie Pothole Region are not only vital to waterfowl and other wildlife but also purify drinking water supplies and help control flooding. Last year, the U.S. Senate passed the Clean Water Restoration Act out of committee. This legislation would restore Clean Water Act protection to "geographically isolated" wetlands while excluding previously farmed lands. In April, Congressman Jim Oberstar introduced a modified bill that has gone to committee for review.
As in the past, DU members must make their voices heard to meet our public-policy goals in 2010 and achieve a duck-friendly Farm Bill in 2012.
Implementing the Open Fields program
Ducks Unlimited and partners were successful in establishing an "Open Fields" program in the 2008 Farm Bill. This program is designed to support voluntary, state-run initiatives that pay private landowners to allow hunting or fishing access on their property. This program has the potential to open thousands of acres of private lands to public hunting and fishing, which will also provide an economic boost for rural communities. Rural areas are the primary beneficiaries of more than $75 billion that sportsmen contribute to the nation's economy each year.
To help ensure that $50 million in funding for Open Fields is used before the program expires in 2012, DU has made repeated requests to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expedite publication of a required rule. This proposed rule is expected to be published in the federal register soon, allowing state fish and wildlife agencies to submit grant applications for Open Fields funding in their states.
Beginning work on the 2012 Farm Bill
In the upcoming Farm Bill, Ducks Unlimited will continue to emphasize protection and restoration of grasslands and wetlands in the prairie pothole states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Iowa. The last Farm Bill lowered the acreage cap on the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 39.2 million acres to 32 million acres. The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) has lost nearly 1.6 million acres of CRP land since 2007, and another 2.8 million acres are set to expire by 2012. Without action from USDA, more than 52 percent of CRP acres in the PPR will disappear by 2012. Biologists expect that the loss of this waterfowl breeding habitat will have a significant impact on waterfowl production in the United States.
On a positive note, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has committed to maintaining CRP enrollment at close to 32 million acres and recently announced plans for a general CRP sign-up in 2010. Secretary Vilsack has also allocated an additional 50,000 acres to the Duck Nesting Habitat Initiative, a continuous CRP practice that is focused on areas of the PPR that attract the highest densities of breeding ducks. This announcement by Secretary Vilsack raises the enrollment cap for this initiative to 150,000 acres. DU is working to maximize CRP enrollment in the PPR.
The Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), which compensates farmers and ranchers who retire flood-prone croplands, will continue to be a major public-policy priority for DU. Changes to WRP in the last Farm Bill created some confusion, discouraging enrollment in this important waterfowl habitat program. However, following a recent commitment from Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White, WRP enrollment increased from approximately 70,000 acres between 2006 and 2008 to more than 180,000 acres in 2009.
NRCS also expects WRP participation to increase in 2010, which is good news for waterfowl and other wildlife. But for WRP to reach maximum enrollment, the agency will need to secure additional funding and work more closely with DU and others to fully implement the program. Achieving maximum enrollment in WRP becomes even more critical as the new Farm Bill approaches, as it allows us to demonstrate a strong need to continue the program and perhaps even expand it. DU is working with Congress and NRCS to secure additional funding for WRP technical assistance now as well as in the 2012 Farm Bill.
As in the past, DU members must make their voices heard to meet our public-policy goals in 2010 and achieve a duck-friendly Farm Bill in 2012. Join the Governmental Affairs Team today at www.ducks.org/policyteam to keep informed about the latest news and become actively involved in important public-policy issues for waterfowl.
—Caroline Garrett, Conservation Policy Specialist at Ducks Unlimited's Governmental Affairs Office, Washington, D.C.