Delta News

Proposal to Send More Duck Stamp Dollars to Breeding Grounds Meets Opposition

BISMARCK, ND—A proposal to increase the percentage of duck stamp dollars going to the prairie breeding grounds has encountered resistance from other parts of the country and could be in jeopardy, sources at the US Fish and Wildlife Service say.

The proposal calls for incremental increases in the percentage of Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) dollars going the prairie breeding grounds. The bulk of those additional dollars would be earmarked for taking perpetual wetland and grassland easements in Region 6 states North Dakota and South Dakota, which attract the bulk of the ducks nesting in the United States.

The reallocation was scheduled to be phased in over three years beginning with fiscal year 2005, but Delta Waterfowl has learned the proposal now faces opposition from other regions.

“This is not a done deal,” warns a US Fish and Wildlife source. He says the proposed reallocation ran into trouble when other regions objected to Region 6 getting a bigger piece of the pie at their expense.

He admits the reallocation “is going to be painful” for other regions, adding, “If biology drives the decision process, the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) provides the most impact for our limited dollars. If you look at the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), the PPR still has the largest goals yet to achieve.”

The MBCF receives revenues from the sale of the federal duck stamp, import duties on guns and ammunition, and several other sources. Between 2001 and 2004, the Region 6 Refuge Division received an average of about 27 percent of all MBCF dollars. Under the reallocation, Region 6 was increased to 32 percent this year and is scheduled to get 39 percent in 2006 and 46 percent in 2007.

Delta President Rob Olson says increasing the dollars coming to the breeding grounds is critical. “There’s no question that every region in the country has pressing needs, and there are many species of wildlife in need of help. But this is duck stamp money, and right now the most urgent need for ducks exists on the prairie breeding grounds.”

Of prime concern is the Missouri Coteau in central South Dakota, where 10,000-year-old native prairie is being broken by farmers planting wheat and soybeans to take advantage of government farm subsidies.

On wet years, the Coteau’s gently rolling hills, native grass and teeming small wetlands—as many as 100 per square mile—attract some of the highest densities of nesting ducks on the continent.

Scientists say the Coteau contains some of the best remaining breeding habitat for the beleaguered pintail, a species of concern because its population has been steadily declining for decades.

Between 2003 and 2005, Fish and Wildlife’s Huron, SD realty office took 137 easements that protected over 38,000 acres, but the waiting list of landowners willing to give easements has swelled to 362 names offering 165,000 acres of prairie.

Another Fish and Wildlife source states, “We’re taking easements as fast as we can get the money,”

“Land values have soared in the Coteau,” says Olson. “Native prairie that was selling for $200 an acre a few years ago is selling for $750 to $800 today. Higher land values and higher cash rents are a huge temptation to livestock producers struggling to make ends meet.

“The need to protect the Coteau is great, and the duck stamp is our best hope for getting the job done,” Olson says.

“Over 90 percent of the permanently protected waterfowl habitat in the PPR was secured with duck stamp dollars,” says Ron Reynolds of Fish & Wildlife’s Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (HAPET) in Bismarck. “It’s the most efficient habitat program out there.”

Reynolds says securing habitat on the breeding grounds is the best use of duck hunters’ dollars. “If we don’t get the job done for duck hunters here, we’re not going to get it done.”

Olson agrees the greatest biological need for habitat protection exists on the breeding grounds. “We have extremely good data showing that 90 percent of the annual variation in the mallard population is attributable to factors in the breeding grounds.

“If hunters could see the data showing the critical importance of the breeding grounds, I think they’d support this proposal.”

A final decision on the allocation could be reached when the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission (MBCC) meets June 21.

“If producing more ducks is the ultimate goal, we have to follow the science and spend our dollars where they’ll do the most good—the prairie breeding grounds,” says Olson. “It’s critical that hunters voice their support for the reallocation proposal.”

“A lot of hunters have told us how disappointed they were by low duck numbers in recent years,” he says. “This is their chance to do something about it.”