Delta News

Prince Edward Island First Province to Adopt 'ALUS' as Program Farmer-supported CRP-type Program Holds Big Potential for Ducks, American hunters

Bismarck, N.D.-Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson says today's announcement that the government of Prince Edward Island (PEI) has adopted Alternative Land Use Services (ALUS) as provincial farm policy is a promising development for American waterfowl hunters and has the potential to pay big duck dividends down the road.
Delta Waterfowl's Vice President of Policy Bob Sopuck speaks about the significance of the Prince Edward Island ALUS announcement. (Flash 9.0 Required)

Often called the farmer's conservation plan, the new ALUS program in PEI will compensate farmers for providing ecological goods and services, including waterfowl habitat, on their working agricultural lands. PEI is the first Canadian province to make ALUS an official government program, which Olson hopes will spur other provinces to do the same.
"Without a CRP-type program like ALUS happening at a landscape level across Canada to protect grasslands and wetlands, the future of waterfowl hunting in America as we know it is unsustainable," Olson said. "That may sound like a harsh analysis, but it's the truth. Unless you live in North or South Dakota, ducks aren't local, so protecting waterfowl breeding habitat in Canada, which ALUS can do, is critically important—especially when you factor in all of the grassland losses happening across the U.S. breeding grounds of late.

"It's always been our vision to have ALUS adopted as national farm policy in Canada, and today's announcement in PEI is a giant step toward that ultimate goal," Olson added. "We're also working hard to bring ALUS to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, three provinces that in the past have exported a lot of ducks to American hunters."

Olson says he fears a "duck crisis" is on the horizon for American waterfowlers as critical habitat is lost across the breeding grounds.

"First, Canada is broken," Olson said. "Wetland losses are ongoing. The long-term production trend for high-profile species like mallards and pintails is falling across prairie Canada—even during years with excellent water conditions. And nest success in many parts of the Canadian prairie is in the tank.

"Second, on the U.S. side of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), the booming farm economy has taken a toll on waterfowl habitat, particularly the grasslands ducks need for nesting," Olson added. "We've lost hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP and native prairie, which during the wet cycle of the 1990s caused continental duck populations to explode. Taken together, we're facing the stark possibility of a duck crisis for American waterfowlers. That's why ALUS' expansion in Canada is so important."

According to research conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the Dakotas and Montana has provided an additional 2 million ducks to the fall flight since 1992.

Olson says that soaring commodity prices and land values and growing demand for corn-based ethanol have made CRP less attractive to agricultural producers.

"The Dakotas and Montana lost roughly 820,000 acres of CRP in 2007 and the long-term projections offer much of the same," he said. "Make no mistake, every CRP acre we lose in the Prairie Pothole Region will mean fewer ducks for American hunters."

Olson says today's announcement in PEI offers hope for the future. "Having ALUS as provincial farm policy in Prince Edward Island is good news, but it's not the end of the story," he said. "We still have a lot of work to do before we reach our ultimate goal of having ALUS adopted as national farm policy across Canada. When that happens—and I believe it will—American hunters will be among its chief beneficiaries."

The ALUS concept, endorsed by farm groups across Canada, was originally designed by Delta Waterfowl and Manitoba's Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), one of Canada's primary farm organizations. Currently there are ongoing ALUS demonstration projects in Manitoba and Ontario.