BISMARCK, N.D. – July 9, 2010 – Ducks Unlimited's support of a new federal program is starting to pay off with more opportunities for hunters, which will help maintain the nation's hunting traditions. Under a recently launched U.S. Department of Agriculture initiative called Open Fields, landowners can receive a financial incentive in exchange for opening lands to the public for outdoor recreation.
"Open Fields gives landowners one more incentive to share with hunters the habitat they're conserving and encourages landowners to use best-management practices for maintaining that habitat," said Dr. Scott Stephens, DU director of conservation planning for Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains Region.
Plans for the legislation were originally announced in Ducks Unlimited's Great Plains Regional Office by its sponsor, U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.). Approved in the 2008 Farm Bill, Open Fields will provide $50 million for states to create or expand voluntary hunter-access programs on private lands. DU worked with partners in the wildlife community to support the measure in Congress and obtain funding for it. Estimates are Open Fields could open more than 4 million new acres of private land to public hunting and fishing annually.
States with public access and walk-in programs have significantly smaller hunter decline numbers than those without. "Any way to turn around the trend of declining numbers of hunters is also good news for conservation," Stephens said. "Hunters consistently invest the most dollars in conservation, so any program that will make it easier to hunt is good for maintaining waterfowl habitat."
Stephens stressed that Open Fields will also bring new dollars into rural economies. "Hunters bring a big boost to local communities each fall," he said. "Landowners who receive the incentives will also have money to invest locally."
Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres, thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.