The Natural Resources Conservation Service's announcement that it will spend at least $20 million to create new resting and feeding areas for ducks and other birds in eight Southern states is welcome news.
The unprecedented effort is intended to — with some luck — partially, at least, offset the pending threat to migrating waterfowl and other birds posed by the oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Much of the new land will be flooded rice fields. Some also will be abandoned catfish ponds. The upshot is the USDA will prioritize the best spots available in the most strategic counties of the eight states, and pay farmers and landowners who own the lands to provide shallow water cover where otherwise there would be none this late summer and fall.
All of which is good. Contracts with the landowners will in most cases be multi-year — up to five years — and ducks particularly can use all the help they can get, wherever they can get it.
And who knows? Perhaps some of this temporary habitat will become permanent.
Of course, already some hunters up and down the Mississippi Flyway are crying foul. They say the newly flooded, and taxpayer funded, duck-friendly areas will be hunted by the landowners only, with all others kept out.
Perhaps some landowners might even lease the areas to other hunters, thus double-dipping, gaining from the government on one hand and waterfowlers in need of hunting spots on the other.
Well, OK, so be it. That's the price we pay if we want habitat on the ground.
In fact, it's always been that way. When Ducks Unlimited (which is also establishing new habitat in the Gulf region) or Pheasants Forever or the state or federal government enters into habitat or conservation agreements with landowners, they usually don't restrict use of the property, or access to it.
How could they? No one — or very few — would sign up for such a program.
So, some people will get a better deal than others, regarding hunting access to the new government-funded habitat development plan.
So it goes.
The hope is that regardless of who individually benefits, ducks and other waterfowl benefit more.