WASHINGTON, D.C. – Conservation programs that benefit waterfowl receive mixed support in the 2009 budget proposal, released today by the Bush administration. One program cited by the President as a priority a few years ago, would cease after this budget due to lack of authorization.
The Wetlands Reserve Program, an important program for restoring certain marginal agricultural lands would receive enough funding to meet its current acreage cap, but without reauthorization in the Farm Bill the program will be discontinued after this budget. The WRP is a key component of the President’s pledge to restore, improve and protect 3 million acres of wetlands by 2009. The pledge was made at an Earth Day celebration in 2004.
Both the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the Grasslands Reserve Program would be cut to zero in the proposal. Both programs reached their maximum acreage allotments and have yet to be reauthorized.
The effectiveness of the Conservation Reserve Program would also diminish because of no large-scale enrollment. CRP’s role as wildlife habitat and in controlling erosion of the nation’s topsoil is under threat due to marginal lands being sown for grains as the result of increased ethanol demand. More than 2 million ducks are reared on CRP lands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North and South Dakota and Montana. General enrollment into the program was halted in 2007.
There was a silver lining for waterfowl conservationists in the budget. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) was allotted $42.6 million in the proposal, maintaining level funding from FY’08.
“In times of tight budgets, we’re glad to see that programs like NAWCA get support from the President,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (MD), a member of the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission, which decides how NAWCA and federal duck stamp funds are spent. “The funds the federal government spends on the wetlands conservation act program leverage between two and three times more from partners, so $42 million federal dollars can mean over $100 million when other sectors match it. That is meaningful habitat money for Maryland’s waterfowl and other wildlife.”
Fellow Migratory Bird Conservation Commission member Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.) agreed, saying, “I am pleased that the President’s budget recognizes the importance of waterfowl programs such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Wetlands Reserve Program. Resources provided through these conservation programs help ensure waterfowl habitat along the migratory flyways across North America.”
NAWCA has conserved more than 20 million acres across North America since its inception in 1989. Projects have helped restore habitat in critical areas such as the Chesapeake Bay and Louisiana coastline, and improved nesting habitat for waterfowl in the northern prairies and wintering grounds in the South.
Recommended funding for other programs benefiting migratory birds fell short of previous years. Cuts would hit the Neotropical Migratory Bird Act, which uses federal matching grants to protect habitat across the continent, saw its funding decline 12 percent from last year’s proposal.
With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization with more than 12 million acres conserved. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands − nature’s most productive ecosystem − and continues to lose more than 80,000 wetland acres each year.