By Scott Yaich, Ph.D., and Gildo Tori
For well over a century, ducks and geese have been icons of wetlands conservation. That’s for good reason, because as go wetlands on landscapes such as the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), so go duck populations. Now the future of wetlands and waterfowl in the United States hangs in the balance as Congress debates the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA)—legislation every bit as important to Ducks Unlimited’s conservation mission as the Farm Bill. The voice of sportsmen must be heard in this debate if we are to prevent a dramatic acceleration of wetland loss, a decrease in duck populations, and reduced hunting seasons in the future.
Most duck hunters know that the fortunes of ducks are directly tied to wetland conditions, especially on the prairies. And many waterfowlers remember when hunting seasons and bag limits were cut back during the severe prairie droughts of the 1960s and 1980s. Although periodic dry spells are natural on the prairies, a significant, policy-driven loss of our remaining wetlands would have the same effect on duck populations as a permanent prairie drought. And waterfowl hunters would pay the price.
The United States has already lost more than 53 percent of its historic wetlands in many areas. But that number is actually too low when it comes to waterfowl habitats. Unfortunately, regions that tend to be most important to waterfowl have typically experienced wetland loss that exceeds the national average. For example, the PPR of the United States once contained about 20 million acres of wetlands. Today, less than a third of those wetlands remain. In one five-county study area in southwest Minnesota, more than 87 percent of the wetland basins have been lost. What does that mean for ducks? This landscape can now produce less than 20 percent of the ducks it once did. Even more sobering, this study area is representative of much of western and southern Minnesota, all of northern Iowa, and significant portions of the eastern Dakotas.