By Eric Lindstrom and Gildo Tori
Each year, members of Congress and other elected officials make decisions that affect the well-being and future of our nation's wetlands, waterfowl, and rich sporting traditions. With a stroke of the pen, policymakers can have a substantial impact on these important issues. Ducks Unlimited prides itself on using science not only to inform important policy decisions impacting wetlands and waterfowl, but also to build bipartisan support for conservation across the political spectrum.
With a new Congress and presidential administration in Washington, D.C., DU and its partners will continue to promote wetlands- and waterfowl-friendly policies to achieve our conservation goals.
Here's a preview of some of DU's top public policy priorities for 2017 and beyond.
North American Wetlands Conservation Act
Created by Congress in 1989, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) is among the most successful public-private conservation partnerships in history. Administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), NAWCA provides competitive matching grants for wetland and associated habitat projects across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. NAWCA's $1.4 billion investment has garnered $3 billion in partner support across North America. To date, more than 5,600 partners have leveraged NAWCA grants with nonfederal matching funds to conserve over 33 million acres of crucial wetlands and related migratory bird habitat.
But NAWCA benefits much more than wetlands and migratory birds. Conservation efforts supported by this legislation provide a host of other benefits to people, including clean water, flood storage and reduction, and groundwater recharge. NAWCA also boosts local recreational economies, provides conservation incentives to farmers and ranchers, and creates jobs. DU and its partners work with Congress each year to fund this program through appropriations and other sources. These efforts generate about $70 million each year for conservation. As we work to reauthorize and fund NAWCA in 2017 and beyond, we'll be reaching out once again to DU supporters and encouraging them to contact their members of Congress to back this important conservation legislation.
2018 Farm Bill
Another key public policy priority for DU is the Farm Bill. This legislation is renewed by Congress roughly every five years and affects a large number of federal programs—from commodities to conservation. The current Farm Bill is set to expire in 2018, and work is already under way to develop the next one. DU's work on the Farm Bill never really ends as we continually work on policy updates, program administration, and annual funding.
Nearly 70 percent of the land in the United States is privately owned, and Farm Bill programs play a major role in efforts to conserve wetlands and other wildlife habitats on these private lands. Guided by science, DU has outlined its 2018 Farm Bill priorities, which include protecting threatened wetlands and grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region and conserving important waterfowl wintering habitat on rice lands in California's Central Valley, the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and along the Gulf Coast. DU also supports voluntary programs that help private landowners conserve important waterfowl migration habitats in the Great Lakes region, the Chesapeake Bay watershed, southern Oregon, Northern California, the playa lakes region, and Nebraska's Rainwater Basin. From north to south and coast to coast, the Farm Bill has a tremendous impact on private lands conservation across all four flyways.
Federal Duck Stamp Program
Since 1934, federal duck stamp sales have generated funding to protect 5.7 million acres of crucial migratory bird habitat across the United States. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar raised from duck stamp sales goes directly to habitat conservation through the purchase of public lands and conservation easements on private lands. In 2014, thanks in large part to the efforts of DU supporters, Congress raised the price of the federal duck stamp from $15 to $25, generating an additional $15 million per year for wetlands and waterfowl conservation.
Among DU's top priorities in 2017 will be to work with the new administration and USFWS to ensure that a large percentage of federal duck stamp revenues are invested on the prairies and other high-priority waterfowl landscapes. For example, more than 1,800 farmers and ranchers in the eastern Dakotas are currently waiting to enroll property in conservation easements that would permanently protect more than 340,000 acres of vital wetlands and grasslands on working agricultural lands. An additional $300 million is needed to clear the current conservation easement backlog in the Dakotas and protect some of the most productive waterfowl breeding habitat on the continent.
Regional and State Priorities
DU will also work with its partners to promote regional policy priorities, such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). These efforts have conserved nearly 18,000 acres of coastal wetlands and associated habitats along the Great Lakes, benefiting breeding and migrating waterfowl and an abundance of other fish and wildlife. During the past federal fiscal year, Congress allocated $300 million for the GLRI, and DU and its partners are currently working to secure crucial funding for this initiative in 2017 and beyond.
In addition to its work on behalf of national and regional conservation programs, DU strongly supports dedicated conservation funding initiatives on the state level. These initiatives offer great opportunities for DU and its partners to secure additional funding for waterfowl habitat conservation in high-priority areas. A dedicated funding program in Minnesota is already a tremendous success (see sidebar), and efforts are under way to establish dedicated conservation funding sources in other states, such as California and Iowa.
While politics can be acrimonious and challenging at times, DU long ago recognized the value of promoting carefully targeted public policies in support of its mission. Simply put, we will not achieve our continental conservation goals without engaging in the public policy arena. To do so, DU will continue to rely on the advocacy of its members, partners, and policymakers. For more information on how you can help support DU's public policy priorities on behalf of wetlands and waterfowl conservation, visit ducks.org/publicpolicy.
Eric Lindstrom is Ducks Unlimited's national manager of agriculture policy. Gildo Tori is director of public policy in DU's Great Lakes/Atlantic Region.