The key ingredients to maintaining viable populations of migratory birds are
large blocks of grassed nesting cover and numerous pothole wetlands. Production
agriculture, the number one economic activity in North Dakota, continues to place great
pressure on both. The vast majority of North Dakota farmers and ranchers readily recognize
the contribution that wildlife and habitat provide to their quality of life--it is the
rare North Dakota farmhouse that does not house at least one shotgun or fishing pole.
However, with most farmers and ranchers
suffering marginal profit margins for several years due to low grain prices and unusual
climatic conditions, their ability to restore and conserve wildlife habitat has taken a
back seat to keeping the farm or ranch solvent. Many bankers often look closely to assure
every acre is being maximized for economic return before giving annual operating loans.
The results of these bad economic times
for farmers and ranchers are seen in continued conversion of native grasslands to crop
production and intensive cropping practices that contribute to the degradation of prairie
The key to stemming the tide of
conversion and continued pressure on wildlife habitat is public and private programs, such
as the North Dakota Partners Program that can provide the technical and financial
assistance necessary to show farmers and ranchers how grasslands and wetlands can fit into
their agricultural operation. The Program allows for a "win-win" situation.
The primary goal of the Partners
Program in North Dakota is to restore and enhance prairie wetland complexes. This is
accomplished primarily through restoration of key wetlands, establishment of new wetlands,
restoring cropland to native grasses, and promoting wildlife-enhancing agricultural
practices such as rotational grazing systems, no-till cropping systems, and replacement of
agricultural chemicals with biological and cultural practices.
The nature of the Northern Great
Plains, including numerous watersheds, abundant grass, and low predation rates, provides
North Dakota Partners with exceptional opportunities for establishment of headwater
wetlands that enhance breeding and migrational habitat for numerous wildlife species.
These wetland restorations cost $300 per acre. The Program also partners with ranchers to
redistribute cattle away from sensitive riparian communities. Installation of fencing
costs $5,000 per mile.
The North American Wetlands
The North American Wetlands
Conservation Act (NAWCA) plays a pivotal role in restoring and protecting the over 2
million prairie pothole wetlands necessary to meet the goals of the North American
Waterfowl Management Plan. NAWCA is the banner under which many privately funded partners
rally around to implement habitat enhancement on a broad scale.
Since September 1990, NAWCA projects
have brought over $34.6 million to North Dakota, including $15.7 million in NAWCA grants,
$17.1 million in private matching funds, and $10.3 million in federal non-matching
funds--$34.6 million that have been paid mostly to local contractors, suppliers, and
landowners for 621,034 acres of habitat restoration and protection--$34.6 million that
became a reality only because of NAWCA. Since the first NAWCA project was launched in
1990, over 48 groups and organizations and 1,420 private landowners have contributed their
dollars, time, and energy to restoring and protecting North Dakota's prairie wetland
Twelve major NAWCA projects have been
implemented that cover nearly the entire state of North Dakota. NAWCA has proven to be the
major catalyst for more jointly funded wetland conservation projects in North Dakota than
at any other time in history.