EPlains News Fall 2021 Director's Message

Great Plains Region Leadership Team 

Despite drought on the prairies and the global COVID-19 pandemic that punctuated FY21, Ducks Unlimited volunteers and staff throughout the Great Plains Region (GPR) drove conservation to new heights. Goals were exceeded and expectations met. Ducks Unlimited has also surpassed a 15-million-acre conservation milestone, capping an 85-year history of DU’s science-based conservation efforts achieved through partnerships, policy and volunteer leadership.  

The GPR Conservation team conserved more than 300,000 acres in FY21, including 92,166 perpetually protected acres in the Prairie Pothole Region. Public income from grants and partner contracts exceeded goals by 74%. This income is significant for implementing public land projects and matching North American Wetland Conservation Act grant funding. Conservation managers in the region came in on budget. 

The GPR relies on project coordinators who, throughout this last year, made sure commitments to vendors, partners, grantors and donors were kept. Administrative support staff in the GPR made sure staff in the field and in the office had needed equipment and support. Biologists and engineers secured grant funding, negotiated agreements with landowners and partners and put conservation acres on the ground. 

The GPR Development team set a regional record in new major gift commitments bringing in more than $5.8 million, far above established goals. Cash donations also exceeded goals with more than $4.6 million in FY21. 

The Region 2 grassroots fundraising team, which includes the Great Plains Region states, in partnership with volunteer leaders, raised $8,023,170 in unrestricted income. Even with the cancelation of several large DU dinners, this team exceeded their goal by 20.4% and surpassed FY20 earnings by $1,049,577. 

Accomplishments in public policy in the migration states were made possible by work with coalitions and collaboration between DU staff and volunteers.

The Colorado Legislature made considerable changes to the state’s easement tax credit program. The changes included an increase in the tax credit incentive of up to 90% of the donated value of the landowner’s easement. The legislature’s actions on easements expanded the list of eligible landowners to include certain water entities, established a tax credit tracking system in the Colorado Division of Conservation and added a system to address a backlog of easement applications. This legislation was the result of a multi-year effort by a large coalition of land trusts, including Ducks Unlimited. The Legislature also increased funding for the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s grant program, one of the primary sources of public funding for DU’s work in Colorado and created a new soil health grant program. 

In Kansas, the Legislature passed a bill allowing the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) to acquire nearly 500 acres from Ducks Unlimited to expand the Byron Walker Wildlife Area near Wichita. Legislative approval is required for KDWP acquisitions exceeding 160 acres and DU staff and volunteers educated legislators on the value of this expansion. While the pandemic eliminated some of the typical social avenues for engaging with state legislators, DU staff and volunteers hosted a virtual fly-in in February. Zoom meetings were conducted with many key legislators to inform them about Byron Walker Wildlife Area, the importance of the expansion and DU’s role in the transaction. DU staff and volunteers testified, virtually and in person, at committee hearings on the bill. 

In the Dakotas and Montana, all three legislatures were in session and the results were generally positive for DU and waterfowl habitat.
The legislature passed fundraising legislation in North Dakota to allow online raffles and electronic payment that will benefit DU’s events system. Funding for the Outdoor Heritage Fund was protected for continued investment in conservation and recreation. 

To the west, Habitat Montana, a program that uses hunting license fees for habitat conservation, was targeted several times, but DU and partners kept it protected. This program will grow in 2023 with approved funding. 

Thanks to the GPR and Region 2 team, Ducks Unlimited’s bold vision continues to advance across the Great Plains. 

The GPR Leadership team: Director of the GPR Johann Walker, Managing Director of Development for the GPR Eric Lindstrom, Director of Public Policy Carmen Miller, Director of Public Policy Ryan Taylor, Director of Fundraising and Volunteer Relations Greg Dinkel