With support, waterfowl benefits may survive in federal highway bill

Efforts by Ducks Unlimited and allies are underway to support provisions added to the federal highway bill that would provide significant benefits for waterfowl. One provision of the bill—commonly known as the RESTORE Act—calls for 80 percent of the fines paid by those responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to be committed to restoring the area most affected—the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Massive portions of Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been lost over the last 40 years, and these losses continue today. The area serves as a critical wintering area for up to 14 million ducks and 2 million geese from multiple flyways, and offers popular hunting and fishing opportunities for a significant number of outdoorsmen and women each year.

Another provision currently contained in the highway bill relates to land conservation nationwide. Oil companies pay for the privilege of pumping oil and natural gas from offshore federal lands. Some revenue from that fuel production is required by law to be used for conserving land under the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). LWCF money is used to conserve lands that will eventually become federal and state forests, wildlife refuges and management areas, waterfowl production areas and other designated areas beneficial to waterfowl and other wildlife.

One initiative, called the Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area, would benefit from a commitment of significant LWCF funds to land conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region of North and South Dakota. This area is considered by many to be the most important waterfowl production region in the world, but funding is needed to purchase conservation easements that will protect prairie pothole wetlands from being drained and nesting grasslands from being plowed under. Funding for the Dakota Grasslands Conservation Area partnership, which includes Ducks Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a host of other conservation partners, would make this protection possible.

Ducks Unlimited and others are working to educate members of Congress—especially members of the U.S. House of Representatives—on the importance of these highway bill provisions for waterfowl and other wildlife. A decision on the bill is likely to come within the next 10 weeks and DU will be seeking help from its members and partners to help advocate for congressional support.