PELICAN ISLAND, Fla., Oct. 25, 2011—
Ducks Unlimited Chairman of the Board John Pope joined U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe last week to install four new planks on the boardwalk at Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. The walkway at Pelican Island NWR, America's first national wildlife refuge, is made of planks representing each of the 555 conservation units in the refuge system. Pope helped add a plank for the new Dakota Grassland Conservation Area.
"When we added that plank, we did more than conserve habitat. We preserved a piece of American history, provided a more certain future for our ranchers, and secured some of the best waterfowl breeding habitat in the world—
the Prairie Pothole Region," said Pope.
The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area is part of DU's effort to protect 2 million acres of critical wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region
of North and South Dakota. To demonstrate its support for the area, Ducks Unlimited committed $50 million over 10 years to purchase easements under the program. "I know how hard it is to raise $50 million, and I couldn't be happier spending it this way," said Pope.
Conserving habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region is one of DU's top priorities, because it plays a central role in sustaining healthy duck populations. The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area will conserve up to 240,000 acres of wetlands and 1.7 million acres of grasslands in the Dakotas through conservation easements
. More than 800 landowners in North and South Dakota have expressed an interest in conservation easements with DU.
The program is a voluntary and financially feasible way for ranchers and other private landowners to conserve native grasslands and wetlands. It's 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 revenue generated from federal duck stamp sales.
"The next step is ensuring the Land and Water Conservation Fund isn't underfunded in the 2012 budget, and that the price of the federal duck stamp increases to a more appropriate level," said Pope. "The cost of a duck stamp hasn't been adjusted in 25 years, which has drastically decreased its power to conserve habitat
In addition to the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area, planks were added to represent the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area of Kansas
, Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area of California
, and Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge of Pennsylvania
"Today, we not only celebrate the National Wildlife Refuge System—
the world's premier system of public lands and waters dedicated to conserving wildlife and wildlands—
but we also highlight our efforts to work in partnership with local landowners and other stakeholders to conserve working landscapes," said Secretary Salazar.
Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest non-profit 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.