Ducks Unlimited plays vital role in wildlife maintenance
BY MICHAEL PEARCE
The Wichita Eagle
Michael Pearce/The Wichita Eagle
Those who enjoy the McPherson Valley Wetlands do so largely to the efforts of Ducks Unlimited. Arguably America's top conservation group, the organization is celebrating its 70th anniversary.
Migration forecasts and local habitat should make for good duck hunting in Kansas this fall. Both are largely due to a time about 70 years ago that wasn't so plentiful.
When New Yorker Joseph Knapp learned they weren't seeing as many ducks because of declining breeding ground habitat, he started an organization called Ducks Unlimited.
Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, Ducks Unlimited has helped improve more than 12 million acres of North American waterfowl habitat, much of it in on the breeding grounds of Canada and the northern United States.
Kansas waterfowl hunters and nature lovers have benefited in other ways, including the nearly 5,000-acre McPherson Valley Wetlands north of Wichita.
Not so long ago, it was mostly dry and privately owned.
"Without (Ducks Unlimited) we'd be nowhere near where we are today," said wetlands manager Brent Theede. "We've come a long, long way in 15 or 16 years and there's no way we could have done it by ourselves."
Theede said DU lent valuable engineering, water control and wetlands management expertise.
They greatly helped in gathering the money for the $6.2 million project.
Some came from funds DU raised at its 5,500 nationwide banquets and events.
Scott Manley, a DU director of conservation, said more than $600,000 for the project came directly from select Kansas members.
Much more was raised when Manley formed a partnership with more than a dozen major contributors, including The Nature Conservancy, Pheasants Forever, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Koch Pipeline.
"Ducks Unlimited has always been great at forming really great partnerships," said Steve Williams, Wildlife Management Institute president. "They're good at bringing folks together, often from very diverse areas and interests, for one common goal."
Manley then used the gathered money to acquire matching funding from various federal programs.
Though the McPherson Valley Wetlands project is largely complete, it's not the last Kansas program of importance for DU.
Major improvements are planned for the marshes at the Jamestown Wildlife Area.
Over about the past 30 years, DU has played a role in nearly 90 wetlands projects in Kansas.
So it's gone all across the U.S. and Canada.
"We go to where the ducks need us," said David Schuessler, director of event promotion. "Our entire mission is to fill the skies with ducks and we know to do that we need to provide them with lots of wetland habitat."
"If the Lord flipped a switch and ducks and geese suddenly started needing concrete, overnight we'd start pouring concrete."
Operating by the motto that water plus grass equals ducks, DU has had unique ways of increasing duck production.
They've promoted rotational grazing and crop programs (CRP) that leave wetlands in place and adjoining pastures tall when ducks need them.
They're currently working with northern farmers to grow more winter wheat, which ducks use for nesting.
Some of their most important work occurs indoors.
During his days as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director, Williams often saw Ducks Unlimited lobbyists and biologists in Washington, working on wetlands-related legislation and farm bills.
Schuessler said one of the group's most urgent goals is lobbying to get a proposed farm bill through the Senate.
"If we don't get it we could lose CRP," he said. "If we lose CRP (in the northern states), duck hunting as we know it will be gone forever."
Williams expects Ducks Unlimited to be as involved as any conservation group.
"They'll keep working and will always be an important part of any wetlands conservation," Williams said. "They'll just keep on doing it and avoiding the limelight. That's something that's fairly rare in Washington."