The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently awarded 21 grants to conservation projects that will help conserve vital waterfowl habitat across the nation. The grants are being awarded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), a cost-effective, bipartisan, match-based program that raises an average of 3.2 non-federal dollars for every federal dollar invested.

"These recently awarded grants prove that NAWCA continues to be a smart investment for our nation," DU Chief Conservation Officer Paul Schmidt said. "Collectively, the project partners' contributions almost triple the amount of funds required, making this program a financially prudent way to conserve valuable habitat."

Every dollar of federal money allotted to NAWCA must be matched by non-federal sources like Ducks Unlimited, or state fish and wildlife agencies. Because this program is so effective, funds are often tripled or quadrupled at the local level, a tremendous return on federal conservation investments. Since 1989, more than 2,000 NAWCA projects have contributed to the conservation of more than 26 million acres of habitat across North America.

While NAWCA is a strongly supported and highly effective program, it is currently facing deep budget cuts in Congress for the 2012 fiscal year, disproportionally targeted by politicians who don't understand its on-the-ground and financial benefits. The House has proposed to cut NAWCA funding by up to $17.5 million from its FY 2011 level. From a program that represents a fraction of federal spending, a funding cut of this proportion could seriously jeopardize the program's ability to conserve prime waterfowl habitat.

"Reducing the deficit and ensuring that our nation is financially secure are actions that Ducks Unlimited supports," DU Director of Governmental Affairs Scott Sutherland said.

"However, especially in a time of tight budgets, Congress should support programs that provide good value and bring significant income to local communities, businesses and state and federal treasuries. NAWCA is one of those programs."

Overall, hunting and fishing support more than 1.6 million jobs and generate more than $25 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes. Hunters and anglers in the United States spend about $76 billion annually pursuing their outdoor passions. It is vital to the economy to keep these sportsmen afield and the programs that they value properly funded in Congress.

As the world's largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats, Ducks Unlimited recognizes the economic and ecological value of NAWCA and other conservation programs. The first DU chapter was founded during the Great Depression, and for three quarters of a century DU members have recognized the importance of wetlands conservation to the pursuits of their families and the livelihoods of their neighbors. Now, more than ever, it is crucial for our elected officials to share this recognition.