More Duck Stamp dollars headed to the prairies

Bismarck, N.D. — A greater share of the proceeds from the sale of federal Duck Stamps is on its way to the prairie breeding grounds.

In recent action, the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission decided to send 70 percent of the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to the prairies, up from the 50 percent that had gone there.

The increase, about $10 million a year, will be used primarily by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take perpetual voluntary conservation easements on private lands in the Dakotas. Sites chosen for easements are based on how much benefit they provide for ducks and other migratory birds.

“There’s always been a backlog of landowners (in the Dakotas) waiting to enroll,” said Rex Johnson, leader of the USFWS Habitat and Population Evaluation Team in Fergus Falls. “We’re hoping the additional money will help alleviate that backlog.”

Johnson and Will Meeks, who leads the HAPET office in Bismarck, worked together to secure the increased funding.

John Devney, director of U.S. policy for Delta Waterfowl, said the decision represents a major policy change.

“This is a historic decision, spearheaded by director Dan Ashe of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he deserves enormous praise for his vision and leadership on this issue,” Devney said in a news release. “In an era of tight budgets and scarce resources, director Ashe followed the science and made the best decision for the future of ducks and duck hunters everywhere. We applaud this move wholeheartedly.”

There was opposition in other areas to shifting more money to the prairies, Johnson said. Much of the opposition was because officials elsewhere have different priorities, he said.

But, the “director told us he wanted to protect those landscapes that have the highest potential to produce ducks (and) that are at the greatest risk for conversion to agriculture,” he said.

According to Delta Waterfowl, contracts on 800,000 acres of CRP (of the 2.5-million-acre total) are set to expire in North Dakota this year. South Dakota, which has just more than 1 million acres, is set to lose 200,000 acres of CRP.

“When you factor in all the native prairie we’re also losing in the Dakotas each year, the amount of grassland habitat loss in the duck factory is staggering,” Devney said. “The rich wetland base of the Dakotas is also at risk. There’s a burgeoning interest in tiling and draining as producers look for increased tillable acreage and higher yields.”

The majority of the money that goes into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund each year is from the sale of federal Duck Stamps, which cost $15. There are a variety of other, smaller sources of revenue as well, including import duties on arms and ammunition.

Delta and other groups have been pushing for an increase to the cost of the federal Duck Stamp, which hasn’t occurred in nearly two decades. In his latest budget, President Barack Obama proposes to increase the cost to $25 in 2013.

Former President George Bush offered a similar proposal in 2008.

“Inflation has greatly diminished the purchasing power since the last Duck Stamp increase in 1991,” Devney said. “An increase would greatly improve our efforts to preserve critical duck-nesting habitat for years to come. Delta Waterfowl supports the increase because it’s the best investment in habitat conservation available for ducks and duck hunters alike.”

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