Minnesota rep to author Wetlands Loan Act bill
Thursday, August 11, 2005 1:46 PM EDT
By Joe Albert
Maple Grove, Minn. -- Hoping to curb the trend of wetland and grassland losses nationwide, conservation group leaders met Tuesday with U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minnesota, in an effort to double the amount of money spent each year on habitat.
Kennedy said he would author a bill in Congress to revive a program, the Wetlands Loan Act, to advance between $40 and $50 million per year for 10 years from sales of the federal duck stamp. Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his Democratic counterpart in Louisiana sent a letter to other governors urging support for the act, which had been in place from 1961 until 1988.
"We've got a broad coalition of not just duck (interests)," Kennedy said. "It would benefit pheasants, ruffed grouse, turkeys..."
Between $42 and $50 million is raised each year by the sale of duck stamps. That money then is spent to purchase and improve waterfowl habitat.
Under the Wetlands Loan Act, the amount spent each year on restoration and acquisition would double. The USFWS would gain easements and take fee title on certain parcels of drained wetlands or converted grassland, said Jim Leach, USFWS refuge supervisor in Minnesota.
The state DNR and Pheasants Forever began discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the idea about six months ago, Leach said.
"The idea of farming the best and buffering the rest would be an adequate slogan," Leach said.
The meeting included Leach, Kennedy, and Larry Nelson, assistant director of the DNR's Fish and Wildlife Division. The three met with representatives from groups like the Minnesota Conservation Federation, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, The Nature Conservancy, the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, Ruffed Grouse Society, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, among others.
"This seems like a really simple idea," Kennedy said.
But the group discussed a few considerations, Kennedy said, namely: ensuring the plan is acceptable to agricultural interests; letting counties know about the economic benefits of opportunities for more and better hunting; and allaying concerns expressed by those in the West about more federal land.
Extra money wouldn't be hard to spend, Leach said.
"If we doubled our acquisition program in this region, we could meet our demand," he said. "Right now, with existing funds, we can't meet that backlog."
The Dakotas also have a long list of landowners willing to sell their land, or easements to it.
Money would be targeted to lower quality farmland, and probably be more focused than, for example, the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Kennedy said. "We're looking at a lot of little pieces," he said.
Though additional money would be spent across the nation, the prairie breeding grounds would be a prime candidate for an infusion, Kennedy said.
"The good news is the Southern states really understand they need production in the Prairie Pothole Region," he said.
Dwight Landreneau, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, echoed that during a call last week with reporters. "The most severe area of concern is the Pothole region for breeding and broods," he said. "We can see that (having a) positive effect in Louisiana."
Kennedy said that spending money now on habitat makes sense because "land isn't getting cheaper." If landowners had to wait 10 years to do something with their land, they may elect to put it in production, he said.
He also noted that Congress forgave the loan from the last Wetlands Loan Act. Kennedy said he is seeking a Democratic co-sponsor for the bill, and that authors in the Senate still are needed.