Working for Waterfowl in Washington

Public policy is vital to conserving waterfowl habitat 

Rescuing the Duck Factory—the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North and South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Iowa where millions of ducks are raised—involves a host of conservation efforts, from targeted fundraising and working with farmers and ranchers to enacting federal policies that protect prairie waterfowl habitats. DU's Governmental Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., works with Congress, federal agencies, and other top government officials as well as DU volunteers, members, and staff to ensure that the prairie breeding grounds continue to add millions of ducks to the fall migration every year. This year will be no different as DU continues to promote legislation that benefits waterfowl and waterfowlers.

Going into an election year is always a tricky proposition. All of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate will be elected or reelected in 2010, so the time frame for enacting new legislation or even passing annual appropriations bills to fund current programs is very short. Thankfully, first steps have already been taken on many of DU's policy priorities for improving conservation in the PPR. DU's number one goal is to wrap up initiatives aimed at helping to rescue the Duck Factory this year. These public-policy priorities include:

Protecting potholes from pollution and destruction

The Clean Water Restoration Act that would protect wetlands including prairie potholes and playa lakes passed a Senate committee in June 2009. Wetlands like these, which may be geographically isolated on a map, contribute to local water tables and provide drinking water for millions of Americans in addition to being great habitat for waterfowl and wildlife. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the House by Congressman James Oberstar (MN).

Improving the North American Wetlands Conservation Act

Most people know that the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is one of the most successful conservation programs in history, conserving more than 25 million acres of habitat in just over 20 years. DU has been working with Congress to enhance NAWCA and make it even more effective for waterfowl by allowing Canadian funds to be used for match. Congressman Rob Wittman (VA), a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC), has introduced a bill to make this happen. This legislation passed the House of Representatives unanimously last September. The bill was in the Senate as of press time and could be passed and signed into law early in 2010. As always, DU is also working with the MBCC and thousands of DU members who contact their members of Congress to ensure that NAWCA is adequately funded to continue its success. Congress appropriated a record $47 million for the program in 2010, and DU members who contact Congress continue to make the difference and promote investment in this proven conservation program.

Improving the buying power of the federal duck stamp

Waterfowlers have been promoting conservation since before many environmental groups were formed. One of the main tools has been the federal duck stamp. This program has conserved nearly 6 million acres of habitat in the National Wildlife Refuge System, which also includes waterfowl production areas in the PPR. Unfortunately, the buying power of the duck stamp has diminished as land prices have skyrocketed—in some cases by more than 400 percent in just a few years—in the places that are most important to waterfowl. Adjusting the price of the stamp is vital to ensure that sportsmen's investment in conservation continues to be effective. A bipartisan bill introduced by two MBCC members, Congressmen John D. Dingell (MI) and Rob Wittman, passed the House Natural Resources Committee in September and is awaiting a vote on the House floor. A companion bill in the Senate is expected soon.

Cooperative conservation with farmers and ranchers

With land values and crop prices increasing, landowners are finding it more and more difficult to protect their land and pocketbooks. In 2009, DU worked with members of Congress on two bills—one in the House and one in the Senate—to continue tax incentives that encourage landowners to conserve their land. Representatives Mike Thompson (CA) and Eric Cantor (VA) and Senators Max Baucus (MT) and Charles Grassley (IA) sponsored the bill to extend these incentives. For the latest information on these incentives and what you can do to help encourage Congress to extend them, visit www.ducks.org/taxes.

Another way that DU is promoting private land conservation is by working with Congress to develop concrete policies for the ecosystem services that conservation provides. Adopting management practices that provide cleaner air and water and protect against soil erosion benefits everyone, but incentives for landowners to adopt these practices are limited. There are several bills that would create these incentives for biological offsets for things like greenhouse gases that DU staff are following.

Efforts Outside the Duck Factory

While many of the policy issues of importance to DU are specific to or heavily benefit waterfowl habitats in the PPR, DU is actively involved in the public-policy arena in other regions as well. Some examples include:

  • Saving the Gulf Coast
    One of the most imperiled waterfowl habitat areas in the world is the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas where millions of ducks and geese winter. Coastal erosion is devastating these habitats and threatening shipping and energy industries that depend on the Gulf Coast as a point of entry. DU is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other partners to find effective solutions to coastal erosion and protect this vital habitat.
  • Improving the Wetlands Reserve Program
    After unpopular changes hurt enrollment in the Wetlands Reserve Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service is working to achieve full enrollment in the program by 2012. DU and other partners will help fulfill this goal, which will restore millions of acres of wildlife habitat across the country. This program is especially important in places like the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, a vital migration and wintering area for several species of ducks and geese.

There are many other waterfowl issues in which DU's Governmental Affairs Office is fully engaged and many ways that DU members can be a part of the policy process. To stay up to date on all the latest policy news from Washington, D.C., please visit www.ducks.org/publicpolicy. You can also sign up to be a member of DU's Governmental Affairs Team and receive DU's weekly Conservation Issues Briefing (see sidebars).


Join DU's Governmental Affairs Team

Public policy isn't just for the experts. DU's 1 million members and supporters carry a lot of weight in the halls of Congress and in statehouses across the country. If you want to make your voice heard for waterfowlers everywhere, join DU's Governmental Affairs Team. Visit www.ducks.org/volunteer/publicpolicy and sign up today so you can help.