Duck-stamp dollar allocation opposed


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 said.

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 the Region 6 states of 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 Bill Hartwig, assistant director of Fish
and Wildlife's National Refuge System. Hartwig says reallocation ran into
trouble when other regions objected to Region 6 getting a bigger piece of
the pie at their expense.

Hartwig 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 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.

"We're taking easements as fast as we can get the money," said Harvey
Wittmier, Chief of the Region 6 Division of Realty in Denver.

"Land values have soared in the Coteau," said 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 said.

Ron Reynolds of Fish & Wildlife's Habitat and Population Evaluation Team
(HAPET) agrees. "Over 90 percent of the permanently protected waterfowl
habitat in the PPR was secured with duck stamp dollars," Reynolds said.
"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 because, "If we don't get the job done for duck
hunters here, we're not going to get it done."

Wittmier 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."

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," said Olson. "It's critical that hunters voice their
support for the reallocation proposal."

Olson says hunters can register their support by visiting
www.deltawaterfowl.org. "A lot of hunters have told us how disappointed
they were by low duck numbers in recent years," he said. "This is their
chance to do something about it."

Courtesy of Delta Waterfowl.
For more information visit their website at www.deltawaterfowl.org.