BISMARCK, N.D. – June 6, 2013 – Conservation organizations and the presidential administration are renewing and making new commitments to help conserve prairie wetlands and grasslands, amid ongoing challenges facing some of the world’s best breeding habitat for birds and other wildlife. Nearly 90 representatives of conservation groups and public agencies, including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Director Dan Ashe, united in Bismarck this week to witness one of America’s vital landscapes in crisis.
The two-day Prairie Summit was hosted by Ducks Unlimited to provide an opportunity for participants to see the rapidly changing landscape of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and collaborate on opportunities for its conservation and restoration. Attendees toured northwestern North Dakota and heard from local farmers and energy producers about their efforts to balance working the land and conserving it.
“The reality is that we’re asking a lot of this landscape,” Ashe said. “It’s pretty clear that it can’t provide everything to everybody. It produces food and fiber, now energy for the United States and continues to provide the bounty of waterfowl and wildlife [habitat] that it has provided for thousands of years. If that’s going to continue, we’re going to have to ask people to make responsible choices.”
Ashe told the group he will work to continue to distribute 70 percent of federal duck stamp dollars to conservation incentives for PPR landowners, as well as trying to expand funding for the Dakota Grasslands Initiative through the President's proposal for full and permanent Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) funding. This funding would be used to pay landowners for conservation easements that protect the land from conversions and support working lands remaining such in private ownership. Conservation nonprofits also committed to playing a larger role in helping raise awareness about the importance of the PPR, particularly in the public policy arena.
Native grassland in the prairies is being overturned at rates not seen since the Dust Bowl, fueled in part by energy development and high crop prices. Pressures on wetlands have also increased dramatically. In addition to providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, grasslands and wetlands help provide clean water, flood protection and carbon storage, as well as stimulating a strong recreational economy.
“We are going to lose this land if we don’t do something. If we speak with one voice for conservation, we will make reverberations in the halls of Congress,” said DU CEO Dale Hall. “What is really important is having a level playing field. That’s why re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance is so critical – it levels the playing field for our nation’s farmers and ranchers.”
In addition to farm bill protections for critical wetlands and grasslands, summit participants rallied around increased funding for LWCF and duck stamps, as well as more societal awareness of the benefits of wetlands.
Field representatives for the full North Dakota delegation of Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven and Rep. Kevin Cramer attended the conference. Among the other Prairie Summit participants were representatives from the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies; Delta Waterfowl Foundation; Mule Deer Foundation; National Audubon Society; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; National Wild Turkey Federation; National Wildlife Federation; USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; North Dakota Game and Fish Department; North Dakota Natural Resources Trust; Pheasants Forever; Quail Forever; Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks; The Conservation Fund; The Nature Conservancy; The Wildlife Society; Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council; Wildlife Management Institute; and World Wildlife Fund.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. 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 13 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. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. Connect with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/DucksUnlimited, follow our tweets at twitter.com/DucksUnlimited and watch DU videos at youtube.com/DucksUnlimitedInc.
Becky Jones Mahlum