Effort aims to protect critical duck production habitat
Delta Waterfowl’s Working Wetlands program, an incentive-based effort that could support the breeding efforts of 1.8 million ducks, opened enrollment this past week in five states in the prairie pothole region.
The program, now dubbed the Prairie Pothole Water Quality and Wildlife Program, is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and resulted from Delta’s inclusion of Working Wetlands language in the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill.
“This is a historic day for Delta Waterfowl and a monumental win for ducks and duck hunters,” said Dr. Scott Petrie, CEO of Delta Waterfowl. “Working Wetlands targets small, temporary and seasonal wetlands, which Delta’s earliest research tells us are the most critical to duck production. I am elated that the program is a step closer to conserving breeding duck habitat on a massive scale.”
Launched as a pilot program in 2015, Delta’s Working Wetlands has annually conserved about 9,400 of North Dakota’s most vital temporary and seasonal wetlands — small, shallow ponds that provide essential invertebrates to nesting hens and ducklings, but that are also at highest risk of drainage. Research indicates that 93,500 acres of those wetlands were lost from 1997 through 2009, and millions of wetland basins remain at risk within America’s prairie pothole region.
In consultation with North Dakota’s agricultural leaders, Delta designed Working Wetlands to provide fair compensation to voluntarily enrolled farmers for protecting critical duck-producing ponds embedded in cropland.
Considering the popularity of Working Wetlands in the agricultural community, it’s expected demand for the Prairie Pothole Water Quality and Wildlife Program will greatly outweigh the initial funding. A ranking criteria will ensure the program conserves landscapes with the highest densities of breeding ducks.
“Conserving the most important duck breeding habitat and producing ducks is our ultimate goal, and that’s what the program is tailored to do by working with farmers and ranchers,” said Delta Waterfowl senior vice president John Devney, who served as the primary architect of Working Wetlands and its champion on Capitol Hill. “It’s exciting to see the program enter a new chapter with this week’s announcement, but Delta won’t rest until Working Wetlands is conserving key duck habitat across the entire prairie pothole region.”
The initial enrollment is expected to conserve more than 30,000 small, duck-producing wetlands in North Dakota. The program is also open for enrollment in Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and South Dakota.
“(Working Wetlands especially appeals to farmers because) it allows the producer to seed the wetland when conditions are favorable,” said Jarvis Keney, a North Dakota-based resource conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Considering that 90 percent of duck production in the United States occurs on private lands, most of which are working farms and ranches, Working Wetlands represents a win-win solution to conserving breeding duck habitat.
“I’m also proud that Working Wetlands was created selflessly,” Petrie said. “The duck hunters’ organization won’t receive a dime of taxpayer dollars for engineering a program that will immensely benefit duck production and the future of waterfowling in North America. My hat’s off to John Devney and his many partners, particularly the North Dakota agriculture and conservation communities, and the staff of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.”
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.