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DU initiative has five components
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
February 4, 2005 ANDY0204

In recent years, Ducks Unlimited has stressed the importance of saving the Missouri Coteau region of North and South Dakota.

The Coteau -- a relatively unbroken stretch of fertile grasslands and wetlands -- extends approximately through the middle of both states, in a north-south direction. It produces most of the ducks hatched in the United States each spring.

Traditionally, farmers have considered the Coteau to be untillable. But recent developments in machinery, farmland chemicals and genetically modified crops have changed that and today, as never before, the Coteau is being converted to cropland.

All of which has prompted a rethinking by Ducks Unlimited officials in Minnesota. If the Coteau is so important, they asked themselves, and Ducks Unlimited --and all other duck-conservation groups in the country-- don't have enough money to save it at this time, how wise is it to spend available funds in Minnesota, where duck production potential is significantly less?

"Protecting the best of the best in the Coteau is paramount because once it's lost, it's expensive to get back, and even if you do, it's hard to restore to its original condition," said Jon Schneider, DU's manager of Minnesota conservation programs.

"It doesn't make sense to spend limited dollars in Minnesota to restore habitat, when you can protect five to 10 times as much habitat, and better habitat, in the Coteau with the same money."

Yet no one in DU considered giving up on Minnesota. Instead, Schneider said, they needed to refocus their efforts here.

Thus was born, recently, the group's Living Lakes initiative, the goal of which, generally, is to restore the state's large shallow lakes that are used, primarily, by ducks migrating through the state in spring and fall.

"The declining number of scaup [bluebills] were a major concern when we conceived the Living Lakes program," Schneider said. "But scaup alone won't benefit by this work. Our belief is that if we focus on the migration habitat that benefits scaup, other ducks will benefit as well."

DU recognizes their effort -- important because about 70 percent of ducks harvested in Minnesota originate elsewhere -- is just one piece of the puzzle, and that grasslands restored by Pheasants Forever, waterfowl production areas purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wetland restoration projects overseen by the Department of Natural Resources also are important.

In fact, DNR Fish and Wildlife Division Director John Guenther has directed his waterfowl managers to develop a concise duck-recovery plan for Minnesota. The DNR plan will be part of efforts by conservationists leading to an April 2 rally at the Capitol in support of ducks, wetlands and clean water.

DU, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other government agencies are expected to be involved in development of the recovery plan.

Included will be the five basic components of DU's Living Lakes initiative, including:

• Increasing the group's public policy efforts. This is a big step for DU in Minnesota, as it seeks to become more active in developing public policies that affect wetland and grassland habitats. As part of this effort, DU in Minnesota has formally joined the planning group, under the direction of Dave Zentner of Duluth, that is developing the conservation agenda for the April 2 rally.

• Active water management through engineering of water-control structures and fish barriers.

• Restoration of drained shallow lakes, among them, perhaps, 800-acre Moonshine Lake in Big Stone County.

• Restoration of small wetlands near large shallow lakes, as part of an attempt to improve the area's overall hydrology.

• Protection of shorelines around shallow lakes through conservation easements -- the first of which was recently donated on Lake Christina.

All of this comes with a big price tag: about $6 million a year (including support from DNR and other agencies), up from the $2 million the group now spends in Minnesota. Translation: Aggressive new fund-raising efforts will be needed.

All of which will be discussed at DU's state convention next weekend in St. Cloud.

Ambitious? Yes.

Necessary? Yes, if Minnesota is to save ducks and duck hunting.

Now the DNR needs to accelerate its efforts to integrate the Living Lakes initiative into its still broader Minnesota duck recovery plan -- a plan that makes sense to duck lovers and is worthy of their support.

Dennis Anderson is at

[email protected]
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