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Farm bill program reimburses wetland restoration costs

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Contact Neil Shader, Conservation Policy Specialist, 202-347-1530, nshader@ducks.org

Ducks Unlimited fronts funds to help farmers achieve conservation goals

MEMPHIS, Tenn., June 12, 2007 – Every year, the Environmental Working Group, a public interest watchdog organization, releases a list of payments the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes for programs it administers through the farm bill. These payments are commonly referred to as “subsidy” payments. A subsidy is funds paid by the government to a private entity for the “good” of the public. The latest report was released Tuesday.

Ducks Unlimited typically ranks high on the list for receiving millions of farm bill dollars. However, these payments to DU are not subsidies. They are reimbursements for on-the-ground wetland restoration projects DU conducts mostly through the Wetlands Reserve Program.

Unfortunately, every year, some people erroneously believe that payments DU receives takes money away from deserving farmers. This assumption is wrong.

In fact, DU is reimbursed for work it does for farmers who choose to have DU’s wetlands experts handle the restoration component for their Wetlands Reserve Program contract. DU initially develops plans and pays for restoration, relieving the landowner of this financial burden.

“Each year, we have to do some explaining in coffee shops and along fencerows in rural America, especially in southern states like Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana,” said Dr. Curtis Hopkins, who oversees DU’s conservation work throughout the South. “Once we explain we’re getting reimbursed for work that farmers in the Wetlands Reserve Program have hired us to do, they quickly understand that it’s not a subsidy payment, and we’re certainly not getting money that should be going to farmers.”

In fact, DU’s role as a Wetlands Reserve Program technical assistance provider often helps farmers get their wetland restoration done faster than if they tried to do the project work on their own, because DU pays for the initial restoration on the landowner’s behalf.

Once the restoration plan is approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), DU solicits bids from local contractors, organizes the work to restore and reforest the wetlands, and pays for the overall restoration. The government then reimburses DU after the work is completed. In the meantime, the landowner has already been paid for the conservation easement on the property by the NRCS and doesn’t have to front the cost of the restoration.

“Ducks Unlimited helps farmers with wetlands restoration work, which is what we do best and that allows farmers to concentrate on farming,” Hopkins said. “It’s a win-win for all involved, including hundreds of wildlife species that use these newly created wetlands. For DU not to be involved in restoring these wetland habitats would be to neglect our core mission.”

The Wetlands Reserve Program is one of the most important conservation programs within the farm bill. It is administered by the NRCS and annually restores or protects up to 250,000 acres of marginal agricultural lands on farms and ranches nationwide.

“Another great part of this program is that it allows many farmers to retain ownership of property they might otherwise lose,” added Hopkins. “These landowners have ties to the land and Ducks Unlimited and the Wetlands Reserve Program help them improve their property for wildlife and keep it in the family.”

During the past five years in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi DU restored 112,488 acres involving 586 private landowners. DU also provides assistance and receives minor payments for its role in the Conservation Reserve Program.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands - nature’s most productive ecosystem - and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.

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