Gov. Dayton has proclaimed today "Ducks Unlimited Day'' in Minnesota, honoring the group's 75th anniversary and its long association with Minnesota waterfowlers. In the interview below, Dale Hall, DU's chief executive officer, discusses the group's decision to move a key employee out of Minnesota, as well as chances that the developing federal farm bill and other legislation in Washington will benefit conservation.
Q What's DU's assessment of the recent duck season?
A Duck production last summer was great. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated 45.6 million nesting birds returned north, the highest since '55. Nesting success was pretty good, and we had one of the best migrations on record. Unfortunately for hunters, the weather stayed warm, and birds don't burn up more energy than they have to, migrating. So a lot of hunters saw scattered success. It wasn't because the ducks weren't there. Missouri held a lot of birds, for example. Arkansas had a reasonably good season. Louisiana had a good season. That said, every morning in a blind is great for me, regardless of bird numbers.
Q Minnesota is always tops or nearly so in DU members, yet you recently moved the state's conservation program manager to Bismarck and aren't replacing him here. Why?
A We've made personnel shifts to achieve a more team-like approach to everything we do. We now have four regional offices, in Sacramento, Calif., in Bismarck, in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in Jackson, Miss. Other people work out of their homes and in smaller offices, including in Minnesota. But Becky Humphries out of Ann Arbor oversees our work from Chesapeake Bay through Minnesota to the edge of the Missouri Coteau. Minnesota has not been left high and dry. It's too important to us.
Q The federal farm bill being developed in Washington will be crucial to wildlife, especially ducks and pheasants, depending on its conservation provisions. Will a bill pass Congress before the election?
A We're not sure. Some say it will. But more likely it will wait until after the election.
Q DU is also pushing to increase the price of a federal duck stamp, from $15 to $25.
A It's important. And it wouldn't be a "tax'' increase. Hunters asked for the stamp in the first place, and are willing to pay more to conserve habitat. It's crucial if we're going to conserve the land necessary to sustain ducks. The price of a stamp hasn't been raised since 1991, and its buying power today is half what it was then. Raising it to $25 would only get us to where we were in 1991.
Q Funding for NAWCA -- the North American Wetlands Conservation Act -- also has been a struggle.
A In 2010, NAWCA funding was $47.6 million. In the 2011 agreement, it fell to $37.4 million. That's not good, but we started from zero. For the 2012 discussions, the House started at $20 million and we ended at $35.5 million. We don't think we should be exempt from cuts. But we shouldn't take more of a cut than our fair share.
People shouldn't forget the private sector brings $3 to the table for every $1 appropriated through NAWCA, which is run through the Fish and Wildlife Service. As importantly, this program allows farmers to continue their lifestyles on the land. It works on a voluntary basis with landowners to provide many benefits to all kinds of people, not just farmers. Jobs produced by the program return at least $3 to the treasury for every dollar appropriated.
Q Uncertainty surrounding the Clean Water Act and its interpretation is also a concern, particularly in the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
A Everyone from the Farm Bureau to Ducks Unlimited to various environmental groups and homebuilders is looking for clarity from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps of Engineers regarding interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Particularly important are regulations these agencies might issue. As with the farm bill and NAWCA funding, it could be a positive for ducks, or a negative.