Delta News

Delta Waterfowl Urges America’s Duck Hunters To Support Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2003

Duck hunters concerned about the future of their sport are urged to aggressively support the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2003, says Rob Olson of Delta Waterfowl.

“As far as duck hunters are concerned, this is one of the most important bills Congress will address in our lifetime,” says Olson, who heads Delta’s United States office.

The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2003 was introduced last week in the House and the Senate by Congressmen John Dingell (D-MI), James Oberstar (D-MN), Jim Leach (R-IA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), and Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), James Jeffords (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). If passed, the bipartisan bill would reaffirm Congress’ intent to protect “isolated” wetlands when it passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972.

Wetland protections provided by CWA were erased in January of 2001 when the Supreme Court ruled the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers have no jurisdiction over non-navigable waters. That controversial decision opened the door for developers and farmers to drain, bulldoze, fill and destroy so-called “isolated” wetlands.

“The Supreme Court got it wrong,” said Dingell in introducing the bill. “The legislative history of the Clean Water Act clearly…states that the statute applies to all the waters of the United States. I know this because I personally included it in the Congressional Record in 1972.”

The Supreme Court decision stunned waterfowl biologists across the prairie breeding grounds. “Seasonal and temporary wetlands are easily the most important wetlands for duck production,” explains Olson. “Ducks returning to the breeding grounds key on these little one- to three-acre wetlands because they provide the protein-rich invertebrates hens require for egg-development. Seasonal and temporary wetlands are the engine that drives the duck factory.

“The Supreme Court decision left the Swampbuster provisions of the farm bill as the last line of defense against unrestricted drainage of seasonal and temporary wetlands,” Olson says. “Unfortunately, there have been numerous attempts to circumvent Swampbuster. “A few years ago the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota attempted to reclassify wetlands protected by Swampbuster,” he says. “Had that back-door tactic been successful, 90 percent of South Dakota’s wetlands would have been subject to drainage. The NRCS effort—which ultimately was blocked in court—served as a reminder that Swampbuster is at best a tenuous protection.” If passed by Congress, the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act of 2003 will restore permanent federal protection to these critical wetlands.

The importance of seasonal and temporary wetlands was first identified through research conducted by H. Albert Hochbaum, Delta’s first scientific director, in the 1940s. Delta students confirmed his findings with subsequent research conducted in the 1950s.

Waterfowl scientists have since discovered that 10 one-acre wetlands produce three times as many ducks as one 10-acre wetland.

“Farmers and developers see these little wet spots as nuisances,” says Olson. “Most duck hunters think in terms of big marshes, and traditionally habitat conservation efforts have focused on big waters. Seasonal and temporary wetlands don’t get much attention, but without them duck populations will crash.”

Olson says 80 percent of the wetland basins in the Dakotas are classified as seasonal and temporary. “These little wetlands account for 70 percent of the duck production in the Dakotas,” Olson says. “When you consider that over half of the prairie pothole region’s ducks originate on the US side of the border, it’s easy to see how critical these little wetlands are for the future of ducks and duck hunting, and how important it is that we protect them.

“Ron Reynolds of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in North Dakota did some modeling and determined that losing these little wetlands would lead to significant population declines and possibly closed hunting seasons.”

Olson says ducks need a variety of wetland types to get them through their annual cycle. “Ducks need molting waters, staging waters and high-quality wintering habitat,” he says. “But when it comes to making ducks, seasonal and temporary wetlands are by far the most important.”

The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act has received strong support from Delta Waterfowl, the Izaak Walton League of America, American Rivers and the National Wildlife Federation. Olson says Delta will be contacting key lawmakers in the coming weeks to seek their support for the bill.

“Passage of the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act will keep these critical wetlands from slipping through the cracks,” says Olson. “We urge everyone—especially duck hunters—to contact their Congressmen in support of this bill.”

Delta Waterfowl was established in 1911 and is North America’s leader in waterfowl conservation research. Delta’s U.S office is in the heart of duck country, Bismarck, North Dakota. Delta’s mission is to enhance waterfowl populations while securing the future of waterfowling.

For more information, contact Rob Olson or John Devney at 888-987-3695 or 701-222-8857.