Public policy shapes the face of the prairie landscape. Consequently, DU is actively involved on committees and with organizations that deal in policy issues. Within the U.S. Farm Bill, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has had an enormous impact on duck populations. First implemented in 1985, CRP has, over time, restored 7.8 million acres of grasslands within the Prairie Pothole Region. Scientists estimate that 2.2 million additional ducks per year are added to the fall population as a result of CRP. A companion conservation program in the Farm Bill -- the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) -- pays landowners for easements to protect previously-cropped wetlands, and cost-shares the restoration of wetlands impacted by agriculture. Also of critical importance are provisions in the Farm Bill know as “Swampbuster” and “Sodbuster”, which protect wetlands and grasslands by providing a disincentive that discourages destruction of these critical habitats.
Much of the funding for easements and restoration originates from grants under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). This important program promotes partnerships and leverage of financial resources and expertise, and has been a tremendous asset to conservation efforts in the Prairie Pothole Region. Maintaining the viability of NAWCA is a high priority public policy objective of Ducks Unlimited.
Most waterfowl habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region is on private land. Consequently, Ducks Unlimited has several programs that work with landowners to help them improve and protect waterfowl habitat while at the same time maintaining or enhancing the viability of their ranching or farming operation.
In the Prairie Pothole Region, ranchers and ducks are dependent on the same resources: water and grass. This common need opens many opportunities for DU to work with livestock producers. Grassland and wetland easements are attractive to many ranchers because they provide a payment for maintaining resources they already have. Ranchers have used easement payments for many purposes, including retiring debt, expanding their operation, and sending kids to college. In addition, many ranchers have a deep respect for the land, and often enter into an easement agreement out of a strong belief that their rangeland should never be plowed. In addition to easements, DU works with ranchers to establish rotational grazing systems that increase the profitability of their operations while enhancing range quality, and may also cost-share new watering facilities including stock ponds and tanks.
While most cropland is of little value to breeding ducks, winter wheat affords a duck-friendly alternative that provides relatively secure nesting habitat. It’s value lies in the fact that winter wheat is planted in the fall, most typically into stubble left over from the previous crop. The stubble traps winter snows, thereby insulating the winter wheat sprouts during frigid temperatures. In the spring, the stubble and short, green wheat is attractive to some nesting ducks, particularly northern pintail. Because winter wheat (unlike spring-seeded crops) remains undisturbed during spring, duck nests are not destroyed by farm machinery. In addition, since wheat fields are not very profitable foraging habitats for mammalian predators, nests are relatively secure and have hatch rates several-fold higher than those nests located in spring-seeded crops.
br>In the U.S., Ducks Unlimited employs two full-time agronomists, who deliver the winter wheat program. They offer incentives and technical support to landowners to entice them to try winter wheat and ensure their success. In addition, DU supports several variety trials in which new breeds of winter wheat are tested and evaluated under field conditions. Results of field experiments on variety, rotation, fertilization, and pesticide/herbicide application are published periodically in DU’s winter cereals newsletter. This information, combined with incentive payments, one-on-one crop consulting, and extension efforts, has substantially increased winter wheat acreage in the Dakotas.
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