By Jonas Davis, Manager of Conservation Programs in North Dakota

For the Ducks Unlimited conservation team, 2019 was another successful year in protection, restoration and enhancement of waterfowl habitat in North Dakota. Through expanded partnerships and accelerated efforts, DU restored and enhanced more than 20,000 acres of grassland and wetland habitat. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), DUs primary tool for wetland and grassland conservation is the perpetual conservation easement. The FWS easement program allows landowners to ensure habitat remains intact, maintain their agricultural operation and be compensated for their efforts. In 2019, this partnership perpetually protected 13,891 acres of grasslands and 14,607 of wetlands. Since the start of this partnership, more than 1.6 million acres have been protected in the Dakotas.

The DU biologists and farm bill biologists with the soil conservation district partnership promoted and provided more than 500 landowners with direct technical assistance evaluating options, developing conservation plans and working through enrollment paperwork for a suite of available voluntary conservation programs. Under a 2016 $4.6 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), DU and partners have expanded cover crop and grazing infrastructure practices in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. The 2019 sign-up period accepted more than 8,000 acres of enhanced grassland and wetland habitat through NRCS working lands programs.

In addition to Title II conservation programs in the Farm Bill, like the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program, DU biologists and agronomists expanded other working lands options for landowners through the Outdoor Heritage Fund, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, private foundations, and major donors. In the last year, DU hired another biologist working in the Devils Lake region and a state-wide agronomist to provide technical agricultural assistance for landowners interested in soil and water health practices. These programs have resulted in a wider audience of farmers and ranchers looking to improve their operations and wildlife habitat. The results have equated to 20,000 acres of enhanced prairie habitat added to our tremendous efforts with perpetual conservation easements and Farm Bill programs.