Walnut Bayou example of Wetlands Reserve Program success
TOM, Okla., October 2, 2007 – Walnut Bayou is a wetland oasis that draws waterfowl, deer, turkey and other wildlife from miles around. For decades, it frustrated McCurtain County, Oklahoma farmers who struggled to get a crop from its swampy bottoms. Now, Walnut Bayou is one of Oklahoma’s largest Wetlands Reserve Program easements. Its nearly 3,000 acres and group of eight landowners make it a model of success for the popular farm bill conservation program.
Walnut Bayou is protected forever, but the future of the Wetlands Reserve Program is not so certain. The popular wetlands program officially “died” on September 30 when no new federal farm bill was enacted. It will take almost $2 billion to resurrect it in the next farm bill.
“This program is critical to permanently protecting migration and winter habitat for waterfowl. The program dies if Congress and the president can’t produce a new farm bill,” said Bart James, director of agriculture conservation policy for Ducks Unlimited.
James says DU wants to make sure funding is available for landowners to continue to enroll 250,000 acres of land each year during the next five years. To date, the Wetlands Reserve Program has permanently protected almost 2 million acres of wetlands nationally.
Americans certainly agree with using taxpayer dollars to restore wetlands in programs like the Wetlands Reserve Program. A recent USA Today unscientific poll showed 79 percent of more than 1,940 respondents favor using tax dollars for wetlands restoration. Only 15 percent disagreed.
Lack of funding for the Wetlands Reserve Program isn’t due to a lack of interest. Oklahoma landowners want to enroll now. Landowners receive federal funding to convert marginal cropland back to wetlands.
“The Wetlands Reserve Program is a perfect example of why Ducks Unlimited says ‘Farm the best, conserve the rest,’” James said. “Farmers, ranchers and other landowners get paid to put the land back into wetlands.”
Wetlands benefit people by cleaning water, trapping and slowing floodwaters and providing a place for people to hunt, fish and enjoy nature. Just like Walnut Bayou. More than 900 species of wildlife depend on wetlands at some time during their lives.
“It’s great for landowners, the environment and the community. That’s why we need to voice our support for the Wetlands Reserve Program in the next farm bill,” said Director of Conservation Programs in Oklahoma Scott Manley.
The Senate is presently working on the new farm bill.
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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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