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For Release on June 23, 2008, Fish and Wildlife Service

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Small Wetlands Program: A Half Century of Conserving Prairie Habitat

Fifty years ago an amendment to the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934 (also known as the Duck Stamp Act) authorized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire wetlands and surrounding areas for the benefit of migratory waterfowl. A half century later, the Service's Small Wetlands Program, created to stem the rapid loss of important prairie habitat, has developed into one of the most successful conservation efforts in the United States.

Since its inception, the Small Wetlands Program has protected nearly 3 million acres of prairie habitat in the United States. The Service has focused its protection efforts on the breeding grounds in the U.S. portion of the Prairie Pothole Region, a 100,000-square mile area in the upper Midwest and northern Great Plains that contains some of the most important waterfowl and grassland bird species habitat on the continent. The entire Prairie Pothole Region extends into Canada and covers in total, a 300,000-square mile area.

"The wetlands and virgin grasslands in the Prairie Pothole Region are among the most endangered habitat in the country," said Service Director H. Dale Hall. "While the region accounts for just 10 percent of North American waterfowl breeding habitat, it produces nearly half of the continent's total ducks. The benefits of these wetlands and grasslands extend far beyond the prairies to impact the entire North American continent."

The Prairie Pothole Region also provides valuable habitat for a large proportion of the total U.S. populations of many grassland bird species concentrated in the area during the breeding season. Grassland species of birds are in trouble, if not in significant decline, pressured by habitat loss, predators, changing farming and ranching practices, and fire suppression. The habitat protected by the Small Wetlands Program supports a variety of migratory bird species including bobolink, grasshopper sparrow, clay-colored sparrow, and sedge wren.

The Service has purchased more than 36,000 separate fee and permanent easement tracts that make up the 3 million acres of lands administered as Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA), as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. These include more than 29,000 permanent easements, covering 2.1 million acres, and approximately 7,000 fee tracts, totaling more than 677,000 acres. All WPAs owned by the Service in fee are open to the public for a variety of activities including bird watching, hunting, photography and environmental education.

But despite these gains, more than half of the original wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region have been drained for agriculture or development.

"Our ability to acquire, protect, and manage critical migratory bird habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region is under tremendous pressure. In order to sustain the migratory bird populations, we need to raise awareness of this vital program and encourage people to support it by purchasing Federal Duck Stamps," Hall said. "Buying a Duck Stamp is the easiest and most effective thing a person can do to help protect waterfowl and other migratory birds and their habitat."

The Federal Duck Stamp is a vital tool for wetland conservation, with 98 cents of every dollar generated going to purchase or lease wetland habitat for the Refuge System. Since the stamp's inception, more than $700 million has been raised to acquire more than 5.2 million acres of habitat and hundreds of refuges across the Nation to conserve America's fish and wildlife resources.

President Bush's 2009 budget proposal asks Congress to increase the price of the Federal Duck Stamp from $15 to $25--the first such increase since
1991. The increased revenue, projected at about $14 million annually, would protect and restore critical habitat for migratory waterfowl. More specifically, the increased funding would allow for acquisition of an estimated 6,800 additional acres of migratory bird habitat and secure easements for 10,000 additional wetlands per year across the nation.

For information on the Federal Duck Stamp Program and how to purchase a stamp to help conserve wetlands, visit www.fws.gov/duckstamps/ For information on the Small Wetlands Program, visit www.fws.gov/refuges/smallwetlands/

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
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