WASHINGTON – This past weekend symbolized a missed opportunity for waterfowl, wildlife, and taxpayers when the deadline to opt-in to Sodsaver passed. Governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and Iowa declined to participate in the provision of the 2008 Farm Bill, which would remove incentives to cultivate native prairie.
“Native prairie is one of our most fragile ecosystems, and we need to ensure that it is not lost forever,” said Don Young, Executive Vice President of Ducks Unlimited. “While we are disappointed that this opportunity to promote healthy land stewardship has passed, we are hopeful that this can be the beginning of a new discussion about protecting our last remaining native prairie habitats.”
Ducks Unlimited biologists have estimated that more than 3.3 million acres of native prairie could be lost during the next five years without Sodsaver – the equivalent of 15 percent of the remaining 22 million acres. Native prairie conversions will ultimately reduce fall waterfowl migrations across North America.
The economic ripple effect of losing native prairie is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The non-partisan Government Accountability Office estimates that losing native prairie will cost taxpayers more than $119 million dollars. In addition, with the decrease in ducks from the migration, part of the $1.3 billion dollars that migratory bird hunters contribute to rural economies across the nation will be lost.
Most of the remaining large tracts of native prairie in the US are found in the five states involved in the Sodsaver provision, in a region full of glacially-formed shallow ponds called “prairie potholes.” The lands around these ponds are generally arid and rocky, and are very well suited to grazing livestock versus row crops like corn or wheat.
While the land is relatively poor for intensive agricultural production, it is ideally suited for nesting and breeding waterfowl. Millions of ducks are reared in the Prairie Pothole Region, and migrate to places like the Chesapeake Bay, Louisiana Coast, and California’s Central Valley.
“Bringing these marginal croplands into production is wasteful and damaging to important natural resources,” says Dr. Scott Stephens, Director of Conservation Programs for Ducks Unlimited. “These areas are prone to disasters like droughts, and allowing crop subsidies on broken prairie creates a burden on taxpayers.”
Ducks Unlimited and many other groups strongly supported a Sodsaver program that was national in scope during the debate of the 2008 Farm Bill. While grassland conversion is a nationwide problem and nationwide proposals were considered, the final provision was limited to the Prairie Pothole portion of the five states.
“While the door has closed on this opportunity to protect the prairies, we are working with members of Congress and the Administration to come up with solutions that will ensure the prairies are not lost,” said Young. “These habitats represent some of the most productive waterfowl breeding areas in North America and we will continue to work to secure their long-term existence.”
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 important to waterfowl each year.