DU, DUC Recognize AGFC for 50 Years of Support

AGFC staff and commissioners gathered around the cairn marking 50 years of support for conservation of breeding habitat in Canada.

AGFC staff and commissioners gathered around the cairn marking 50 years of support for conservation of breeding habitat in Canada.

Ducks Unlimited Canada and Ducks Unlimited Inc. recognized 50 years of support for waterfowl breeding ground conservation in Canada in June. The landscape produces waterfowl and other migratory birds that winter in and migrate through Arkansas.

DUC unveiled a monument in the Allan/Dana Hills of Saskatchewan, Canada, dedicated to Arkansas waterfowlers and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. The 160-acre area provides an array of wetland and upland habitat for North America’s waterfowl and was purchased with funding support from the AGFC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited Inc., Ducks Unlimited Canada, the government of Canada and the province of Saskatchewan.

Despite dramatic habitat differences in the Prairie Pothole region of Saskatchewan and the Mississippi Alluvial Plain of eastern Arkansas, millions of waterfowl rely on both each year.

Steve Cook, chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the area is crucial to Arkansas’s hunters. “All of this habitat that’s being protected wouldn’t have occurred without the waterfowl hunters of Arkansas. We wouldn’t have the wonderful duck hunting without their help,” he added.

Located in the heart of the province, the Allan/Dana Hills is one of the most productive areas for waterfowl nesting on the continent. The unique landscape boasts waterfowl breeding densities up to 100 pairs per square mile and has been a primary work area for DUC.

AGFC Director Pat Fitts noted the area has plenty of water and that bodes well for Arkansas duck hunters.

“There are a lot of ducks harvested in Arkansas that are banded in Saskatchewan. This is the core of Arkansas’s waterfowl. Everything’s looking good for Arkansas’s waterfowl season.”

DU Canada and partners in the U.S., including the AGFC, are dedicated to maintaining or creating every acre of habitat possible. It’s a monstrous task that gets more foreboding each year.

Dave Kostersky, manager of state grants for DUC, says the broad landscape of wetlands and grasslands is needed to give ducks a chance at survival.

“Every duck nest has about an 85 percent chance of failing. The Prairie Pothole region is an absolutely critical area, and the Allan Hills are like the diamond in the middle of that whole thing because of its wetland density.”

As we’ve had record waterfowl populations and wet prairies for the last several years, it is easy to overlook the problems waterfowl face and DUC works hard to address. Saskatchewan is almost five times the size of Arkansas, yet has about a third of the state’s population. Saskatoon and Regina account for almost half the province’s 1.1 million people. About 40 percent of all field crops in Canada grow in Saskatchewan, including wheat, canola, flax, oats, peas, lentils and barley. Saskatchewan also holds the second-largest cattle herd among Canada’s provinces. Unfortunately, the wetlands that nurse ducks are often seen as a nuisance for farmers. Any wrinkle in the land makes their job tougher, which means sloughs and ponds are liabilities.

“How do we make a difference?” Kostersky asked. “We put more grass on the ground. We put the right types of habitat on the ground. We work with landowners and make a landscape change that really results in sustainable habitats for waterfowl in Saskatchewan.”

DUC’s goal doesn’t sound unreasonable until the rest of the picture is revealed.

“Wetland drainage is something that’s real in this province,” Kostersky said. “We don’t have public policy that really protects wetlands. We have landowners that are trying to make another dollar on their farm, you can’t blame them for that, but they drain the wetlands, which eliminates the productivity of the landscape for waterfowl. We want to provide incentives. We want to work on ecological goods and services for landowners.”

Incentive and habitat programs run on money, and partners are vital to DUC, which began in 1938, a year after Ducks Unlimited was founded in the U.S. When the North American Wetlands Conservation Act passed in 1989, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in the U.S. set goals for matching funds from member states.

“The state dollar gets matched by DU, then by NAWCA,” Kostersky said. “It comes to Canada and Canadian partners like DUC match it. It results in conservation on a large scale.”