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Proud of Success, Ready for Challenges

Insights from Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall
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As we enjoy another wonderful fall and what we hope will be a great duck season, we need to pause and reflect on the recent successes we have helped bring about. 

The survey of nesting ducks conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, state and provincial wildlife agencies, and other partners tallied record numbers of waterfowl for the second year in a row. Last year the estimate was 45.6 million ducks, the highest count since the survey began in 1955. 

This year's total of 48.6 million breeding ducks surpassed that previous record by 3 million birds. To go along with this good news, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department's mid-July waterfowl production survey revealed that the duck brood index in that state was up 110 percent from 2011 and 155 percent above the long-term average.

With numbers like these, it might seem logical to ask, "What's the issue? The ducks are doing great!" But I believe that is the wrong question. The question we should be asking is: "If we have lost 70 percent of our native prairie nesting habitat, how is it possible to have record-breaking waterfowl breeding estimates for two years in a row?" The answer to this second question is a tremendous testament to the hunter-conservationists who have worked hard to ensure that North America's waterfowl have the best possible habitat year in and year out. 

A remarkable toolbox has been assembled by federal, state, and nonprofit conservation organizations cooperating under the tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Ducks Unlimited stands as a shining example of how well these tools have worked over the past 75 years. By raising private funds to work with private landowners and other partners, DU has conserved nearly 13 million acres of habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. These private dollars are in turn leveraged with federal and state funding. Although the match is a minimum of three dollars of DU-leveraged funding for every dollar of federal funding, those federal dollars are vital to ensuring that the toolbox remains functional and can get the job done for waterfowl, whatever the challenges. 

There are three significant bills in Congress right now that need—and are getting—our serious attention. First, there are bills in both the House and Senate to reauthorize the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) for another five years. NAWCA and the funding it provides are crucial to achieving the kinds of successes we have seen. Second, the Farm Bill has passed the Senate and out of committee in the House. The conservation provisions in the Farm Bill (including CRP, WRP, and Sodsaver) are absolutely essential to waterfowl, providing private landowners with economic alternatives to habitat conversion and allowing them to protect and restore important habitat on their properties. Finally, we continue to push for an increase of $10 in the price of the duck stamp. With 98 percent of every duck stamp dollar going toward securing wetland and grassland habitat, this is a tremendous tool for conservation.

Yes, we have challenges facing us, and we will undoubtedly encounter new challenges over the next 75 years. But the sky is not falling. Through the cooperative efforts of Ducks Unlimited and our conservation partners, we have a tremendous conservation toolbox that has proven its ability to deliver habitat for the ducks. 

Removing tools from this box could have devastating effects on the future of waterfowl populations and hunting. So as great numbers of waterfowl migrate south this fall, let's take pride in knowing that we have played a large role in making this possible. But let us also remain vigilant so that future generations will share in these magnificent gifts.
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