BISMARCK, ND Canadian agriculture ministers have given their stamp of approval to test a conservation program that hopefully will have the same impact on duck production as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the United States.
"For duck hunters, this could be the best news to come out of Canada in our lifetimes," says Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson. "This decision opens the door to landscape-level conservation on a scale never before seen in Canada."
The agriculture ministers approved further development of a new federal policy on Ecological Goods and Services (EG&S) and testing of EG&S through pilot projects.
The driving force behind EG&S was Alternate Land Use Services (ALUS), which was designed and promoted jointly by Delta Waterfowl and Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) of Manitoba. The decision paves the way for testing ALUS in pilot projects across the country.
Under ALUS, farmers and ranchers will receive annual incentives for conserving and/or restoring wetlands, and for planning and managing vast tracts of upland cover for nesting birds like waterfowl.
Olson had high praise for several individuals he says were mostly responsible for making ALUS a reality. "You have to give a lot of credit to Ian Wishart, vice president of KAP for his tireless efforts in behalf of ALUS," Olson says. "He was really the founding architect of ALUS. Equally important in the process were three individuals from Delta-Executive Vice President Jonathan Scarth, Vice President of Policy for Canada Dr. Robert Bailey and Vice President of Policy for Prairie Canada Robert Sopuck.
"ALUS didn't just happen," says Olson. "These individuals have been working behind the scenes for five years. The strong support of other farm groups across Canada was also critical. I just can't say enough about what they've been able to accomplish."
"Development of EG&S policy creates a national home for ALUS," says Wishart. "We believe this decision will allow the federal government to support our ALUS pilot project in the Rural Municipality of Blanshard, a very important duck production area in Manitoba. We already have provincial and private-sector funding for that pilot project in place, including a commitment for state duck-stamp funding from Mississippi and Tennessee, which was secured by Delta Waterfowl."
US duck hunters have committed support for the initial ALUS pilot project in the RM of Blanshard. Wildlife officials in Mississippi committed $60,000 (Canadian) from the state duck stamp, and Tennessee has committed $25,000 (Canadian). Another $100,000 has been committed by the Manitoba Rural Adaptation Council.
The agriculture ministers also committed to host a national symposium on EG&S led by Manitoba. "The national symposium will make Canadian decision-makers aware of how landscape conservation policy has been implemented in other countries, including the 1985 US farm bill," says Scarth. "CRP and other conservation titles of the US farm bill have been vitally important to enhancing waterfowl production in the US."
Scarth noted that duck production on the US side of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) actually exceeded Canadian production in recent years, and credited CRP and the US federal duck stamp for the 1990s explosion in duck numbers.
"We had excellent water on the Canadian prairies in the mid-1990s, but very limited cover because there are no large-scale programs like CRP to put nesting cover on the ground in Canada," Scarth says. "The 330,000 acres of permanently secured habitat in prairie Canada is dwarfed by the nearly 5 million acres of CRP on the US side of the border, and as a result duck production on the Canadian prairies has fallen off dramatically.
"Waterfowl interests have permanently protected only about one quarter of one percent of the priority duck habitat on the Canadian prairies," Scarth says. "That's why Delta believes policy reform is the key to the future of duck production in Canada, and that's why the development of ALUS, the EG&S policy and the national symposium are such huge steps for waterfowl conservation."
Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) President Bob Friesen welcomed the ministers' announcement, noting that it supports the initiative already undertaken by Canadian farmers and ranchers to improve the environment through ALUS. "Delta Waterfowl understands the issues facing producers in Canada and has worked in good faith with the farm community to achieve positive change for producers and the environment," said Friesen. "We look forward to working closely with Delta to implement our ALUS pilot projects across Canada.
Saskatchewan is the heart of the once-great Canadian duck factory, and most waterfowl experts agree the province is the key to the future of ducks and duck hunting in North America. Cecilia Olver, vice president of the Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan (APAS), said, "We have developed a good working relationship with Delta Waterfowl on ALUS because they understand the pressures on producers, and realize that waterfowl and other environmental benefits cannot be sustained at a high cost to producers. This decision recognizes the fact that so much more can be achieved for the environment and for waterfowl by working with producers rather than against them."
"ALUS is not just another short-lived side-aside program," says Olson. "ALUS is designed to create enduring change for ducks by providing incentives for producers and rural communities to become pro-active conservationists.
"Although this is great news, there's still a lot of work ahead. We've taken the first steps down a road to a brighter future for ducks and duck hunting, but now begins the process of implementing and testing ALUS as a policy option."
Courtesy of Delta Waterfowl.
For more information visit their website at www.deltawaterfowl.org.