NAWCA Turns 20

By Neil Shader

During the past two decades, this popular program has conserved more than 24 million acres of prime waterfowl habitat

Few people have accomplished much by the time they are 20 years old. While the occasional child prodigy hits it big, most of us are just embarking on our adult lives. But the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which celebrates its twentieth birthday this year, has conserved 24.4 million acres of prime waterfowl habitat. And thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress as well as support from Ducks Unlimited volunteers and staff, this program is more successful than ever.

Signed into law in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush, NAWCA was implemented to fulfill the U.S. portion of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NAWCA projects have been completed in all 50 states, as well as throughout Canada and Mexico. NAWCA’s success is driven by partnerships involving federal, state, and local governments; nonprofit organizations like DU; and community groups. Every federal dollar provided by NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from nonfederal sources. Because the program is so effective, NAWCA funds are usually tripled or quadrupled on the local level. In 2008,  $84.4 million in federal dollars were allotted to NAWCA, leveraging many times that amount in matching funds.

NAWCA plays a major role in conserving habitat in DU’s high priority regions across North America. In the United States, this program has conserved almost 1.6 million acres of wetlands and grasslands in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, where many of the ducks in the United States are raised. NAWCA projects also provide wintering habitat for waterfowl in the Mississippi Alluvial Valley and along the Gulf Coast, where the program is helping to restore and enhance coastal wetlands lost to hurricanes and erosion. Other areas of the United States where NAWCA projects have been completed include Nebraska’s Rainwater Basin, California’s Central Valley, the Great Lakes, and Chesapeake Bay. Outside the United States, NAWCA has conserved millions of acres of prime waterfowl breeding habitat on the Canadian prairies, and in Mexico, wintering habitat conserved by NAWCA supports large numbers of pintails and other migratory waterfowl.

Ducks Unlimited supports NAWCA in many ways. Each year, DU works with members of Congress to circulate a letter of support to the House and Senate Interior Appropriations Committees, which determine NAWCA funding levels. DU’s NAWCA letter for fiscal year 2009 was signed by more than 200 members of Congress—142 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 60 in the Senate. (See the July/August 2008 issue for the full list.) DU volunteers who call and e-mail their members of Congress in support of NAWCA are vital to the success of this effort.

“DU volunteers are the best of the best—our grassroots fundraising has shown that for decades—and their voices are just as strong in the halls of Congress as they are in banquet halls across the country,” says Scott Sutherland, director of DU’s Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. “It’s crucial for our members and supporters to have their voices heard, and the continued success of NAWCA is an example of what our membership is capable of.”

DU’s Governmental Affairs staff will begin working on behalf of NAWCA as soon as the president releases his budget recommendations for FY 2010, likely in early February 2009. “Once the president releases his budget, we are in full-time NAWCA-support mode,” Sutherland says. “Our legislative team will be hustling, making phone calls to educate members of Congress on the importance of adequate funding, which is getting tougher and tougher with tightening budgets.”

The current budget environment makes input from DU volunteers on behalf of NAWCA increasingly important. A member of Congress might not be willing to sign DU’s letter of support until a constituent contacts his or her office, and even then, contact from several constituents is often required. DU’s Washington staff is already laying the groundwork for this year’s push, and DU volunteers on DU’s Governmental Affairs Team (see sidebar) are ready to help ensure a bright future for NAWCA. To learn more about how you can help, please visit

Join DU’s Governmental Affairs Team

As the only waterfowl organization with a full-time presence in Washington, D.C., Ducks Unlimited’s access and influence are vital to conserving waterfowl habitat and sustaining our waterfowl hunting traditions. To stay informed about the issues that could affect your next trip to the blind, become a member of DU’s Governmental Affairs Team. These volunteers support DU’s public policy efforts by calling and e-mailing members of Congress and by recruiting others to help spread the word. Your voice can make the difference between an important conservation bill passing or failing. If you are interested in being part of DU’s Governmental Affairs Team, please visit