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Sunday, June 16th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Sunday, June 16th, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

A quick chat with Ducks Unlimited’s Kyle Rorah

Kyle Rorah, 35, serves as Ducks Unlimited’s director of public policy for the organization’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Region and leads DU’s government affairs work in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

In this capacity, Rorah works closely with DU volunteers and members, elected officials, other conservation nonprofits, and state and federal natural resources agencies to advance both legislation and administrative actions that promote wetland restoration, science-based management of wildlife and their habitat, as well as the waterfowl hunting heritage.

Rorah joined Team DU in 2016. He currently resides in Ann Arbor, Mich., with his wife Shannon.

Outdoor News: What led Kyle Rorah to this particular career with Ducks Unlimited, and what have you found most rewarding about the job you tackle each day?

Rorah: In 2011, a year after finishing undergraduate school, I met a seasoned fisheries biologist out in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., who had decided to pursue an environmental law degree, mid-career. When asked why, he explained that no matter how much good science he produced about the ecosystem of interest, it meant little if it didn’t get translated into good public policy that guides how people will interact with the resource into the future.

He inspired me that day, and from that point forward, I decided to reorient my professional pursuits toward the conservation policy arena, and here I am.

ON: In DU’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Region, what are the current greatest threats to loss of wetlands? How might the recent Clean Water Act ruling – December 2022, I believe – affect wetlands in your region?

Rorah: DU’s Great Lakes/Atlantic Region is large geographically, spanning across 21 states, so the threats are numbered and varied. Whether it be legislative attacks on state wetland-protection laws in a state like Indiana or overzealous regulatory behaviors from federal agencies in a state like Iowa that actually obstruct our progress restoring wetlands, we find ourselves sometimes catching it from both sides.

Ultimately, I believe the biggest threat to wetlands is human apathy and a lack of understanding about what these systems do for society. DU is working hard to change the hearts and minds of both the public and our elected officials to improve the level of wetland competency.

ON: What are one or two things DU members and other conservationists might do to affect policy beneficial to waterfowl?

Rorah: Get to know your state representative and senator. I’m not saying that you need to have them over for dinner, but at least make an effort to attend a local coffee hour or other event close to home and let them know who you are and that you care about wetlands and waterfowl.

You want them to know that you’re a “Duck Voter” and that they can lean on the conservation community for help gating issues related to natural navi-resources.

ON: As the upcoming federal Farm Fill unfolds later this year, what aspects of the bill will be most important to waterfowl? Also, are there items not in the 2018 Farm Bill that could be included in the 2023 version to better aid ducks in your region and elsewhere?

Rorah: Well, being that the Farm Bill is the single-largest conservation investment we make as a country every five years, the Farm Bill reauthorization effort currently under way is very important.

Of particular importance to waterfowl is the Wetland Reserve Easement Program as well as the Conservation Reserve Program. Both programs offer financial incentives to restore and protect wetlands and grasslands that waterfowl need for all parts of their lifecycle.

We are looking to make some small but important improvements to this year’s Farm Bill, including reductions in administrative burdens associated with some of these conservation programs, greater promotion of wildlife-friendly practices under the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and restoration of incentives under continuous CRP.

ON: How do water-quality issues affect ducks, and what are some possible solutions, policy-wise?

Rorah: Wetlands improve water quality of our lakes and streams because they act as nature’s kidneys by filtering nutrients and sediment that can otherwise act as pollutants. I believe that talking more about the importance of wetlands from a water-quality perspective is a key element to an effective public relations strategy that increases wetland relevancy societally.

This in turn sets the stage for generating public support for increased wetland conservation spending by state legislatures, Congress, and corporations, as well as improved public policy around wetland protection generally.

This all ideally results in more wetlands on the landscape to support waterfowl and other wildlife.

ON: Your region holds approximately 45% of all DU members.

How is DU recruiting new members, and how does “strength in numbers” translate into how effective you, and DU, can be on the public policy front?

Rorah: DU is constantly innovating to gain the attention of new audiences and build relationships with new communities. One new partnership that I’m very excited about is with Future Farmers of America. The membership of FFA represents the next generation of farm owners, and they are undoubtedly the most important segment of society for ensuring that our waterfowl have the resources they need to thrive.

Most high-priority waterfowl states and the landscapes contained therein are privately owned. Land-use decisions by private citizens therefore matter a lot, and so if we can connect with people who will someday be the operators and managers of much of the country’s land mass, waterfowl will stand a much better chance of being cared for into the future.

ON: Duck hunter numbers have slid backwards in Minnesota and other states. Are there policy changes that you and DU consider that might increase hunter numbers and thereby raise money (via license sales, stamp sales, etc.) for improving waterfowl habitat?

Rorah: If all duck hunters simply replaced themselves by mentoring someone else, we wouldn’t be seeing the backslide in participation. I don’t know that there is a policy solution to passing along the heritage. That comes down to each one of us current waterfowl hunters taking responsibility of our own destiny and sharing the necessary skills, ethics, and passion to someone who otherwise would not have gotten that exposure.

ON: Would you say DU in this region is usually reacting to legislation that affects wetlands, or is proactive in pushing for positive changes to policy in the region’s respective states?

Rorah: We always engage proactively on issues across the region and aim to drive wetland conservation policy. That said, we inevitably get blindsided by something each year that puts us on the defensive. That is simply the nature of public policy work, though, so at this stage I anticipate a handful of legislative attacks on our wetland resources, hunting heritage, or science-based wildlife management principles every year.

Lately, we’ve been playing a lot of offense – working with lawmakers to appropriate new and heightened levels of spending on wetland restoration, improving wetland mapping to increase our understanding of what wetlands we have and should protect and restore, as well as adjusting waterfowl stamp fee structures to account for years of inflation and reduced buying power of these important wetland and waterfowl conservation funding streams.

ON: What do you find most pleasing about waterfowl and wetlands? What drives your passion for these things? And, do you have a favorite place to hunt ducks?

Rorah: Waterfowl and their migratory behaviors are one of nature’s great phenomenons. I just marvel at what they do and where they go over the course of a year. That and their gaudy and iridescent appearance really sets them apart from virtually all other wildlife here in the Midwest, which I find cool. As far as wetlands go, they are like mini-Serengetis sprinkled across the land here in the United States, just teaming with an unmatched diversity of plants and wildlife. You simply cannot beat the sights and sounds of a wetland at dawn.

I’m drawn to these environments because I simply cannot help but want to be in them. The outdoors feeds my soul and serves as my most cherished teacher about myself and life beyond. My favorite place to duck hunt is wherever I get to hunt ducks. I love it all.

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