Over the past two years, Ducks Unlimited has been beefing up its efforts to restore and protect valuable wetland habitat in Montana, employing two new conservation specialists to work with private landowners and other conservation partners. "Ranchers are our most important allies in this effort," said Bob Sanders, DU's manager of conservation programs in Montana. "There are a number of excellent programs that pay ranchers to conserve their grasslands and improve their livestock operations."

Montana continues to lose grassland at a staggering rate. More than 10,000 acres of native prairie are lost each year, and some 1 million acres of Conservation Reserve Program contracts will expire over the next 12 months in this state alone. DU is working to reduce these losses by purchasing grassland and wetland easements from private landowners, which protect key waterfowl habitat in perpetuity. DU is also helping ranchers improve their profitability and stewardship by putting up fencing and developing new water sources for cattle on private land.

DU has formed successful partnerships with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); Intermountain West Joint Venture; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; and Prairie Pothole Joint Venture to help deliver restoration projects through the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP). WRP is a voluntary Farm Bill program that gives private landowners the opportunity to restore and protect wetlands on their farms and ranches.

DU's new conservation specialists have helped the NRCS locate several Montana landowners who would like to participate in this program. For example, DU's Abby Rokosh helped the NRCS secure conservation easements from landowners in Flathead, Sweet Grass, and Madison counties. "The majority of our nation's wetlands are located on private land," Rokosh said. "Funding for this program is especially important because wetland restoration is costly."

According to Brett Dorak, DU's newest conservation specialist in Montana, many of the state's wetlands have been altered and are in need of restoration. "Functioning wetlands provide many important ecological benefits, including flood control, pollution and sediment filtration, and crucial habitat for waterfowl and a variety of other wildlife species," Dorak said. "DU works hand in hand with the NRCS and private landowners to help restore these wetlands to their former glory."