Still life for the Wetlands Loan Act?

By Joe Albert Staff Writer

Washington — When U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy lost his bid to become
one of Minnesota’s senators, the future of one of the bills he
championed – the Wetlands Loan Act – became uncertain.

When the 109th Congress adjourned earlier this month, its fate
was sealed.

But supporters say it’s not the end of the line for the idea,
which would borrow $400 million from future sales of the federal
Duck Stamp, and over a 10-year period double the amount spent
annually from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.

“The Duck Stamp has withstood the test of time as being the most
effective and efficient waterfowl conservation program out there,”
said John Devney, senior vice president of Delta Waterfowl. “It’s
an engine that runs very well, and it’s an engine that needs some
fuel.”

Most observers expect the bill to be resurrected during the
Congressional session set to begin this month.

First, though, a new House sponsor has to be identified. That
person could be one of the more than 90 co-sponsors of the bill
Kennedy introduced. To this point, there hasn’t been a sponsor in
the Senate.

There have been discussions with potential sponsors in both the
House and Senate, but final decisions haven’t been made, according
to Dave Nomsen, vice president of governmental affairs for
Pheasants Forever.

“Things aren’t quite that solid,” he said. “(But) we went
through too much work to let it go now.”

The Wetlands Loan Act, introduced at the end of 2005, is based
on similar legislation passed in the 1960s. The bill would borrow
up to $400 million, and be repaid by increases in the price of the
Duck Stamp, which currently costs $15. Under Kennedy’s bill, the
price would have gone to $25 in 2007 and $35 in 2014.

If a bill passes that’s similar to the one Kennedy proposed, up
to $800 million would be available from the Migratory Bird
Conservation Fund over the next 10 years.

In the Midwest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service likely
wouldn’t have trouble spending more money.

It’s likely a re-introduced Wetlands Loan Act will look similar
to Kennedy’s, but that’s not a given.

“It’s a good chance to take a look at things, and maybe there
are some additional things we can do for wetlands,” Nomsen said.
“Clearly, the basic concept is still there.”

The bill was heard in a subcommittee of the House Resources
Committee. That previous testimony is on record and could negate
the need for additional hearings, according to Scott Sutherland,
director of governmental affairs for Ducks Unlimited.

“The Resources Committee may decide they don’t need to have
another hearing before they consider the bill,” he said.

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