Progress is an important factor with any project or initiative, even more so when progress directly impacts waterfowl populations. Ducks Unlimited is pleased to say that one if it's most significant projects has been moving in the right direction. Yet, there is always the opportunity for more.
DU's Rescue the Duck Factory (RDF) campaign was designed to save the highest-priority breeding grounds in the Prairie Pothole Region of North and South Dakota, an area called the Duck Factory by waterfowl biologists thanks to the more than 40 percent of North America's waterfowl that are produced there. The campaign's method to achieve this goal: Securing conservation easements from willing landowners by raising $40 million from individuals, foundations and corporate partners. The most recent numbers are encouraging.
More than 75,000 acres of grassland and wetland easements have been secured from landowners in the Prairie Pothole Region since DU launched the campaign in 2008. The easements cost almost $17 million dollars, of which RDF contributed almost $4.1 million. Additional funding came from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Federal Duck Stamp and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Steve Adair, director of DU's Great Plains regional office, said the partnership between DU and landowners has been a valuable one.
"The continuing interest among landowners to work with us to maintain their grasslands provides an exceptional opportunity to preserve some of the very best waterfowl breeding habitat on the continent," said Adair. "We must remain diligent in responding to this interest."
Partnership plays crucial role
This partnership with landowners actually dates back to 1997, when DU and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) joined forces to start Grasslands for Tomorrow, a campaign aimed at saving 2 million acres of prime waterfowl breeding habitat in the U.S. prairies, with DU acquiring easements from landowners while FWS handles the monitoring and management of the land. And landowners weren't exactly resistant to the idea. The shaky state of the economy, row-crop prices, loss of Conservation Reserve Program funding and developmental pressures on landowners to plow native prairie had them looking for ways to conserve.
The FWS now holds almost 1.1 million acres of grassland easements and 1.4 million acres of wetland easements, of which 849,324 acres were purchased since DU launched Grasslands for Tomorrow. In addition, 14,166 easement acres have been recently "optioned," meaning they will close pending assurance of clear title, subordination agreements from lenders, and other legal requirements.
RDF is building on this progress, but support is more vital than ever, as passing time leads to valuable waterfowl habitat lost. Interest remains strong among landowners with 296,263 acres currently being offered for easement purchases. With the momentum from this report of RDF's success, DU hopes to receive continued support in its mission to rescue the duck factory.
"The RDF campaign is conserving grasslands that could have been lost forever and are crucial to North America's waterfowl," said Adair. "While we have been able to conserve 75,000 acres through this effort, there is still much to do. The habitat secured through this campaign will continue to produce waterfowl for many years to come.”