Breeding Grounds to Benefit from Recent Policy Changes
Ducks Unlimited praises USFWS order that helps address habitat crisis in prairies pothole region
MEMPHIS, May 3--The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director, Steve Williams, signed and issued a new administrative order (Director's Order #170 ) recently to benefit wildlife habitat in the waterfowl breeding grounds of the Great Plains--the most critically important habitat in the world for breeding waterfowl.
The order authorizes use of administrative calculation for easement acquisition funded by the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and simplifies the current USFWS process used to value conservation easements (www.ducks.org/conservation/Easement.asp ).
Before the new order, an appraisal was necessary on easements purchased with non-Duck Stamp money. Now, minimally restrictive easements (a wetland or grassland easement that typically runs less than 50% of the fee value of the property) will no longer acquire an appraisal—expediting the process by more than one month.
According to Williams, "This new tool will make it easier for us to work with ranchers, farmers, other private landowners, and our partners to conserve important wetland habitat throughout the Prairie Pothole region (PPR), long considered the nation's ‘Duck Factory.'"
Ducks Unlimited (DU) is a key partner in the USFWS wetland and grassland easement program. DU leverages private funds to obtain NAWCA grants for easement purchases, and also provides technical and administrative support to USFWS field offices. This helps the USFWS deliver the program and meet the demand from private landowners who are eager to enroll their lands in this program.
The action could not have come at a better time according to Don Young, executive vice president of DU, "Nesting habitat is dwindling quickly as grasslands and wetlands are converted to cropland. With such large tracts of native prairie unprotected from future development, this order will be a big boost for our mission of wetland conservation, it's a practical move on the part of the USFWS to work with willing landowners to permanently protect lands."
Jeff Nelson, director of operations for DU's Great Plains Regional Office is ready to go to work, "This change will accelerate the easement work we do here in the Dakotas, protecting vital habitat. This was a very positive move for the conservation of duck habitat on private lands in the PPR (which produces 50 percent to 75 percent of primary species of ducks on the continent), because the bulk of waterfowl habitat is privately owned. Cooperation with landowners is central to DU's ‘Grassland for Tomorrow' program. With the recent commitment of the administration to increase NAWCA funding and the move by the USFWS to direct 50% of the duck stamp funding to the PPR we foresee a brighter future for our waterfowl and waterfowl hunters."
DU's Grasslands for Tomorrow Initiative—Aims to protect two million acres
The unique landscape of the northern Great Plains is like no other. Twenty-five million "pothole" depressions of all sizes and shapes are spread across a 300,000-square-mile landscape making up the PPR—where half of North America's 35 to 40 million ducks are produced. Unfortunately, these wetlands and grasslands continue to be lost at alarming rates. The U.S. and Canada combined have lost 70 percent of their original prairie wetlands. And, despite partnership accomplishments, the region remains under siege from many directions. The new federal order is a welcome change that will help DU and its partners make real progress in the quest for "Grasslands for Tomorrow."
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
NAWCA grants also provide much needed funding for habitat conservation in the PPR and throughout North America.
Bob Benson, (901) 758-3859