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Delta Waterfowl Supports Proposal To Raise Price of Federal Duck Stamp

Bismarck—Delta Waterfowl supports President Bush's proposal to increase the price of the federal duck stamp but recommends that a higher percentage of the additional revenue be allocated to the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), the nation's duck factory.

President Bush's 2009 budget proposal asks Congress to increase the price of the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, also known as the duck stamp, from $15 to $25, the first such increase since 1991. The increased revenue, projected at about $14 million annually, would protect and restore critical habitat for migratory waterfowl. More specifically, the increased funding would "allow for acquisition of an estimated 6,800 additional acres of migratory bird habitat and secure easements for 10,000 additional wetlands per year across the nation," according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release.

"The time has come to the raise the price of the duck stamp to meet the many habitat challenges facing ducks, but particularly those on the prairie breeding grounds," says Delta Waterfowl Senior Vice President John Devney. "If we're serious about producing more ducks, we need to leverage as many dollars for the Prairie Pothole Region as possible. Increasing the price of the duck stamp would be a good start, but we're also urging Congress to pass the Emergency Wetlands Loan Act, which will help secure even more dollars for habitat important to ducks and duck hunters."

Added Devney: "While it's important to protect waterfowl habitat across the country, the goal should be to raise more ducks, and to do that more dollars need to be allocated to the prairie breeding grounds."

In fact, Devney believes waterfowlers will overwhelmingly support an increase, especially if more money is earmarked for the duck factory. "Based on my conversations with Delta members and other duck hunters, the consensus is they support an increase in the duck stamp," he says. "Duck hunters realize what's at stake, that we need to protect the breeding grounds."

Since 1934, federal duck stamp sales have raised nearly $700 million and conserved roughly 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat across the country, including roughly 2.7 million in the PPR, where the bulk of the continent's ducks originate. Last year alone, more than 1.6 million duck stamps were sold, raising roughly $24.2 million.

"The federal duck stamp has secured more than 90 percent of the permanently protected waterfowl habitat on the U.S. side of the prairie breeding grounds," says Devney. "This is a stunning accomplishment, and duck hunters are directly responsible for that achievement. Still, we continue to lose the best waterfowl breeding habitat on the continent at an alarming rate, in large part because there aren't enough duck stamp dollars to pay for it."

The loss of critical waterfowl breeding habitat in the PPR, Devney says, is being driven by record-high commodity prices, soaring land values and increased demand for biofuels like corn-based ethanol. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres and native grasslands are being converted for agriculture production. In 2007, for example, roughly 820,000 CRP acres were lost in the Dakotas and Montana—prime waterfowl-breeding states. And new numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that contracts on roughly 5.6 million CRP acres will expire by October 2012. That's roughly two-thirds of the current CRP acreage in the Dakotas and Montana.

Of additional concern, Devney says, is the Missouri Coteau in North and South Dakota, where 10,000-year-old native prairie is broken by farmers and planted to various crops. "When the potholes in the Coteau are wet, they attract some of highest densities of nesting ducks on the continent," Devney says. "The good news is that we have hundreds of willing landowners who would like to give perpetual wetland and grasslands easements to protect this important area. The bad news is that they're still on a waiting list because the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't have the money. Service officials are taking easements as fast as they can get the dollars."

One remedy is raising the price of the federal duck stamp, which Devney says is long overdue. Another is Congress passing the Emergency Wetlands Loan Act, which would advance roughly $400 million in duck stamp sales to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect critical waterfowl habitat.

"The Emergency Wetlands Loan Act is our best chance to save nesting cover and small wetlands on large scale on the breeding grounds," said Devney, who also noted that the price of doing conservation work in the PPR has skyrocketed in recent years. "It's a critical piece of legislation that deserves the support of hunters and lawmakers alike."

Devney says today's bullish farm economy will make preserving waterfowl habitat in the PPR a daunting task for the foreseeable future. A recent U.S. Government Accounting Office report warned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is falling behind in protecting waterfowl habitat in the PPR. The study estimated that it will take 150 years and billions of dollars for the agency to acquire enough land to sustain healthy bird populations.

"As the report illustrates, the pressure on waterfowl breeding habitat is a sobering reminder of what it's going to take to maintain continental duck populations and our waterfowl hunting heritage," Devney says. "Raising the price of the duck stamp and passing the Emergency Wetlands Loan Act are good places to start."