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Sportsmen must speak up to make the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area a reality 

Funding would help conserve up to 2 million acres in America's "Duck Factory" 
WASHINGTON, September 9, 2011—Ducks Unlimited is pleased with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent decision to formally establish the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area. This area is part of an initiative to protect almost 2 million acres of critical wetlands and grasslands in North and South Dakota. However, if this jewel for America's wildlife is to be protected, sportsmen will need to tell Congress of its significance.

"Ducks Unlimited has been supporting the process of establishing the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area for some time and we are thrilled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving forward with this project," DU CEO Dale Hall said. "However, to move forward with this initiative and ensure this area is conserved, we must now focus on securing the proper funding."

The purpose of the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area is to provide a voluntary and financially feasible way for ranchers and other private landowners to conserve native grasslands and wetlands. This program is also designed to be economically feasible for the federal government because it will be funded with dollars already dedicated to conservation through the Land and Water Conservation Fund and through the revenue generated from Federal Duck Stamp sales.

"The Prairie Pothole Region is commonly known as our nation's ‘Duck Factory' because it plays a central role in sustaining strong duck populations and conserving this area is a top priority for our organization," DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt said. "To demonstrate our support, Ducks Unlimited has committed $50 million over ten years to purchase easements under this program. Now is the time to let our nation's leaders know that sportsmen support this program and are willing to do their part to make it happen."

Upon approval, this project is expected to conserve up to 240,000 acres of wetlands and 1,700,000 acres of grasslands in the Dakotas through conservation easements. Under the proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will seek to acquire voluntary easements from willing sellers on approximately 2 million acres of native prairie habitat to benefit wildlife and support traditional economic activities, specifically livestock production.

Ducks Unlimited and conservation partners are not the only ones that have advocated for this program. There is currently a waiting list of over 800 landowners in North and South Dakota who have expressed interest in wetlands and grasslands easements. "Easements are a popular conservation tool because of the benefits they provide landowners," said DU Director of Conservation Programs for North and South Dakota, Dr. Jim Ringelman. "Land enrolled in this program can still be used as working farmland for grazing and haying, making it an economically-sound investment for many ranchers."

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. Visit the DU website, www.ducks.org, for more information.

Emily Tyner

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