Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Coleman authors new Wetlands Loan Act bill

By Joe
Albert

Staff Writer

Washington — Sen. Norm Coleman has breathed new life into the
Wetlands Loan Act.

The U.S. senator from Minnesota earlier this month introduced
the bill, which would double over the next 10 years the amount of
money spent from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The
increase, about $400 million, would be repaid via future increases
to the price of the federal Duck Stamp.

The idea isn’t new, having first been passed in 1961. More
recently, former Minnesota Congressman Mark Kennedy, who lost in
November in his bid to join Coleman as a U.S. senator, authored the
bill and advocated on its behalf.

Kennedy’s bill never had a companion in the Senate, and didn’t
go far in the House. To date, there isn’t a companion bill to
Coleman’s, dubbed the Wetlands Loan Act of 2007.

Competing land interests are contributing to a decline in
wetland acres, Coleman said, and the Wetlands Loan Act allows the
land to be bought at today’s prices, rather than 10 or 20 years
down the road, when it is far more expensive.

“These funds will allow us to accelerate the acquisition of
migratory waterfowl habitat,” Coleman said last week during a
conference call with reporters. It would allow the nation to “step
up and face one of the most difficult conservation challenges we
face.”

Coleman’s bill is similar to Kennedy’s, but differs in a key
aspect. Kennedy’s called for the federal Duck Stamp to go from $15
to $25 right away, then from $25 to $35 in 2015. Coleman’s doesn’t
specify when the price increase would take place. He said his staff
would review its options and determine if an increase like
Kennedy’s, or a more graduated approach, is better. The last time
the Duck Stamp price rose was 1991.

However the price increase shakes out, conservation groups – as
they had for Kennedy’s bill – lined up in support of Coleman.

“The United States continues to lose essential wetlands and
grasslands at an alarming rate and an advance in federal Duck Stamp
revenue would help to stop the loss before it is too late,” Scott
Sutherland, director of Ducks Unlimited’s governmental affairs
office in Washington, said in a prepared statement.

And Pheasants Forever president and CEO Howard Vincent, said in
a press release: “Conserving wetlands and associated upland habitat
is critical for waterfowl, pheasants, and all wildlife.”

The additional $400 million would be used to purchase
conservation easements or to acquire land from willing sellers. The
number of acres affected would depend on whether easements were
purchased, or whether the land was purchased outright.

If appropriated, the money would be put into the Migratory Bird
Conservation Fund. Then regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
divisions would work with landowners to put together proposals for
funding. There are more landowners who want to participate in
conservation programs than there is funding for, Coleman said.

“The need is much greater than the available funds,” he
said.

The co-author on Kennedy’s bill was California Democrat Mike
Thompson, and there were nearly 100 co-sponsors, both Republican
and Democrat.

Coleman said the bill continues to have bipartisan support, and
that he doesn’t see “opposition lying in the weeds.”

Coleman planned to work on co-sponsors for the bill in coming
days, and said the loan act would be the first item on his agenda
when he met with Minnesota’s Congressional delegation.

Although hunters – duck hunters in particular, since they have
to buy a federal Duck Stamp – would shoulder the majority of the
burden for paying the loan back, Coleman said those groups of
people are “ready and willing.”

“This may not be ideal, but it’s a pretty good way to get it
done and we have folks that are willing to step up,” he said. “It’s
a darn good way to get it done.”

The bill, Senate File 272, was referred to the Committee on
Environment and Public Works.

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