The ACE Act: A Milestone for Conservation

© Laurie Dirkx

When President Trump signed America’s Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act into law, it marked a milestone day for Ducks Unlimited (DU) and conservation. Among several items, the most important piece of the new legislation is the reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA).

NAWCA is widely considered the nation’s most successful wetlands conservation program and is critical to DU’s conservation mission. Since its enactment in 1989, NAWCA has conserved more than 30 million acres and created thousands of jobs. Congressional authorization for this important program, however, expired in 2012. Passage of the ACE Act changed that and provided much-needed certainty by reauthorizing NAWCA at $60 million annually until 2025 – a $10 million annual increase over previously authorized levels.

While the reauthorization of NAWCA is a tremendous victory for the conservation community on its own, the ACE act doesn’t stop there. The legislation also reauthorizes conservation programs that support waterfowl habitat in important wildlife ecosystems across the country.

Specifically, the ACE Act created the Chesapeake Watershed Investments for Landscape Defense (WILD) Act. This new program falls within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to support habitat restoration in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Additionally, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) was also reauthorized under the ACE Act. NFWF leverages public funds to raise private dollars that help sustain and restore important wildlife habitat across the nation. The organization has completed more than 18,600 projects since its creation in 1984.

It is legislation like the ACE Act, and support from DU’s volunteers and supporters, that allows DU to continue their important conservation work. In fact, according to a report published in the journal Science, programs like NAWCA have helped keep populations of North American waterfowl strong while there has been an overall loss of 3 billion birds since the 1970s. 

Thanks to the important work conducted by DU volunteers, staff and the entire conservation community, our investments in the breeding grounds and throughout the North American flyways will continue to build an even stronger foundation for the next generation of both waterfowl and waterfowlers.

This has been a year unlike any other – largely defined by uncertainty in our schools, throughout our communities and in our homes. It has also been a year plagued by partisan politics in Washington, D.C. At the same time, Republicans and Democrats alike recognized the need for voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs that not only increase access to the outdoors and conserve wildlife for the next generation, but also provide a financial boost to communities and businesses around public lands. It could not have been possible without the relentless efforts of some key Members of Congress, perhaps most notably the members of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission. Sen. Martin Heinrich (NM), Sen. John Boozman (AR), Rep. Mike Thompson (CA), and Rep. Rob Wittman (VA) all worked tirelessly to get this important conservation legislation across the finish line. Conservation has proven it can be a unifier during even the most divided times.

As duck season is upon us and the birds continue their migration from the breeding grounds, waterfowl hunters can head to the blind with the peace of mind that important progress was made this year to preserve their passion and their way of life. Thanks to the broad bipartisan support for conservation and the science-based advocacy by DU and our Public Policy volunteers, 2020 will rightfully be viewed as a banner year for the conservation community.

The ACE act is an enormous win for those who wish to protect our nation’s wetlands and waterfowl habitat, and one that will ultimately enable us to pass our waterfowling traditions down to our children, grandchildren and future generations.

Zach Hartman

Chief Policy Officer

Ducks Unlimited