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Delta Urges Sportsmen To Support Wetland Loan Act

Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minnesota, is asking sportsmen to generate support for the Emergency Wetland Loan Act, a bill that would provide the US Fish and Wildlife Service with $400 million in emergency funding to protect critical waterfowl habitat.
Rep. Kennedy and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, are co-sponsors of the bill, which would authorize Congress to advance $400 million against future duck stamp revenues to conserve wetland and upland habitats.

In a phone call to Delta Waterfowl, Rep. Kennedy said, “We have strong bipartisan support for this bill, but we need the help of conservation groups like Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever and others. We need their members to create the momentum to push it through.”

In response to Rep. Kennedy’s request, Delta President Rob Olson committed his organization’s full support. “We consider this one of the most important and far-reaching pieces of legislation facing ducks and duck hunters today,” says Olson. “On behalf of our members, we thank Congressman Kennedy and Congressman Thompson for introducing this bill, and promise them we’ll do everything we can to generate support for it.”

Olson encouraged hunters across the country to visit www.deltawaterfowl.org and follow the instructions for contacting their members of the House of Representatives. “There’s nothing more important to a lawmaker than hearing from a constituent,” says Rep. Kennedy. “The best way to get this bill passed is if hunters contact their representatives and tell them this is a priority for them.”

H. R. 4315, coupled with existing revenues from by the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF), would provide $800 million to secure critical waterfowl habitat over the next 10 years. The bill is patterned after the Wetlands Loan Act of 1961.

“There are no tax dollars involved,” Olson says. “The loan will be repaid out of future duck stamp revenues. Ducks hunters have been paying their own way since the duck stamp program was launched by Ding Darling in 1934.”

The duck stamp has raised nearly $700 million and conserved some 5.2 million acres of waterfowl habitat across the country, including 2.7 million acres in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), where most of the continent’s ducks originate.

“The duck stamp has secured 90 percent of the permanently protected waterfowl habitat on the US side of the breeding grounds,” Olson says. “That’s an incredible record, and duck hunters can be proud of their accomplishments. But today, some of the best nesting habitat on the continent is in jeopardy and there aren’t enough duck stamp dollars to protect it.

“Land values have skyrocketed in recent years, but stamp revenues have not,” Olson says. “That’s why it’s so important that the Wetland Loan Act is passed in this session of Congress. And it’s critically important that the breeding grounds get high priority when those dollars are being allocated.”

Olson singled out Joe Duggan of Pheasants Forever for his efforts in behalf of the Wetland Loan Act. “If there’s one person responsible for making this happen, it’s Joe,” Olson says. “Here’s a guy who works for a pheasant organization and he’s been leading the fight for a bill aimed at protecting waterfowl habitat.”

“Everyone at PF thinks beyond pheasants,” says Duggan. “When it comes to protecting habitat, we’re all in this together. The habitat that benefits ducks is also good for pheasants, it benefits non-game species and it benefits society as a whole.”

Duggan says the idea to revive the 1960s loan act came up in conversations with Delta and waterfowl managers across the breeding grounds in 2004. “There was a lot of concern about the ongoing loss of habitat on the breeding grounds, and the Wetland Loan Act looked like our best bet for stemming those losses,” he says. “We presented the idea to Rep. Kennedy, and he jumped all over it.”

A long-time vice president for the Minnesota-based organization, Duggan also had praise for Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, both of whom endorsed the loan act concept a year ago; Rep. Thompson, who co-sponsored the bill, and Larry Nelson of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who supported the concept and helped solicit the support of the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.

The bill stipulates that the funds be used for “preserving and increasing waterfowl populations in accordance with the goals and objectives of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.”

Olson says the language dictates that the prairie breeding grounds get a high priority. “The only place we can achieve the waterfowl population goals set forth by the North American Plan is the prairie breeding grounds,” says Olson. “If this bill is approved, it’s critical that we let the science dictate where the dollars are spent.”

Says Ron Reynolds of Fish and Wildlife’s Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (HAPET), “For prairie-nesting ducks, all of the births and half of the deaths occur on the breeding grounds. If we fail on this critical battleground, then we have lost the war.”

Duggan agreed, saying, “There’s no question the most pressing need for these dollars is the Prairie Pothole Region.”

To date, 71 members of the House of Representatives have signed on in support of the bill. Rep. Kennedy says he’s hopeful a companion bill will be introduced in the Senate shortly.

For more information, contact John Devney at 888-987-3695, or Rob Olson at 877-667-5656, or visit www.deltawaterfowl.org.