Producing a spring breeding population of 1 million ducks in Minnesota by 2056 will require 2 million additional acres of wetland-grassland habitat and cost $3 billion, according to the DNR's Long Range Duck Recovery Plan. That's a lofty goal, considering DNR surveys showed just 521,000 breeding ducks in Minnesota in 2006. The plan also calls for restoration of 1,800 shallow lakes (currently about 350 shallow lakes are managed for wildlife) to furnish food for 1.4 million migratory ducks in fall. That migratory population boost could restore Minnnesota's fall duck harvest along the Mississippi Flyway to 16 percent, achieving the plan's goal of returning to 1970s harvest levels.
Looking ahead 50 years allows the plan to be ambitious over the long term. According to DNR wetland wildlife program consultant Ray Norrgard, those distant goals reflect the scope of the problem—about 150 years of wetland and waterfowl habitat degradation. Draining and filling wetlands for cropland and development have destroyed more than 90 percent of wetlands in Minnesota's prairie pothole region.
"If we really want to resolve this issue, then it's important that we know where we need to go," Norrgard says. "You're not going to do it with a five-year or 10-year plan. This duck plan doesn't give us all the details on how to get there, but it does tell us where we need to be."
As for the plan's $3 billion price tag, Larry Nelson, DNR Fish and Wildlife deputy director, says a lot of progress was made at the 2006 state legislative session.
"It was a banner year for capital funding," says Nelson. "The governor and Legislature delivered substantial funding for permanent habitat protection."
Nelson cites $14 million for acquisition and improvement of wildlife management areas in 2006 as the most annual funding ever dedicated to WMAs. Legislation also passed that established a Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Natural Resources, which will provide citizen input to environmental trust fund allocations.
A proposed ballot question on a constitutional amendment to dedicate some of the state sales tax to conservation was not passed by the 2006 Legislature, though the proposal was alive up to the last few hours of the session.
"Long-term dedicated funds are an important part of achieving a pretty aggressive duck plan," says Nelson. "We came closer than ever before in 2006, and I feel optimistic that it will happen in the future."
Norrgard and Nelson say another promising development for the duck plan is an effort called the Working Lands Initiative that brings together farmers, landowners, conservation organizations, and local government agencies. At a recent meeting, the group discussed conservation incentive packages for farmers in six western counties. All the proposals would encourage farmers to voluntarily convert marginal, erosion-prone cropland into prime waterfowl habitat, where it fits into their operations, while keeping the rest of their land in agricultural production.
Cooperation among conservation groups and partnership with landowners—that's how such a lofty duck plan will be realized, Nelson says. "We've defined the problem and the solution. Now how are we going to get it done?" he says. "We know the DNR can't do its part with existing funding. And we know the DNR can't do it alone."
"The federal farm bill is of immediate importance," adds Nelson. "A multitude of conservation friendly, private-land provisions and enormous funding will be necessary to accomplish the duck plan." Congress will debate and pass the next version of the farm bill in 2007.