America’s Duck Factory is in trouble.


Fortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its partners are addressing the problem.


A combination of economics and technology is threatening the Prairie Pothole Region, the vast swath of the northern Plains that is home to dozens of national wildlife refuges and is the nation’s prime duck habitat.


The Prairie Pothole Region, which extends from central Iowa northwest through Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana into Canada, produces 50 percent of the continent’s waterfowl in an average year and up to 70 percent when water and grass are particularly abundant.


However, with the price for food and other agricultural products rising and technology making the conversion of land to agricultural use easier than ever, farmers there are rapidly plowing under grasslands to plant crops. The trend is expected to continue as human population grows and the use of ethanol as fuel increases. Because the price of corn is high, the Department of Agriculture estimates that farmers will plant more of it by acreage in 2012 than at any point since 1937.


This loss of land—combined with the effects of climate change in recent years—has devastated grassland birds. They are among the fastest-declining species. With only about two percent of the nation’s once-vast tallgrass prairie remaining today, acquiring and protecting what’s left is vitally important.


That is why I am so happy that the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund is moving conservation dollars to the Prairie Pothole Region.


This increased allocation means that the Service will be able to use about $30 million this year to put conservation easements in place on tens of thousands of additional acres, helping to stem the loss of these important habitats.


Migratory Bird Conservation Fund money for these acquisitions—either through fee title acquisition or easement—comes largely from Duck Stamp revenue.


Since 1934, Duck Stamp sales have raised more than $800 million for the fund to acquire wetlands for ducks, geese and other wildlife, including hundreds of thousands of acres in the Prairie Potholes.


To enable the conservation of even more acres, we are working with Congress and our partners to increase the price of the Duck Stamp, which has not changed since 1991. The Obama administration’s fiscal year 2013 budget request proposes to raise the price to $25 from $15.


All of this effort is building on the success of the Service’s Small Wetlands Program. Created more than 50 years ago, that program uses Duck Stamp revenue to permanently protect waterfowl production areas, nearly 3 million acres so far, most in the Prairie Potholes.


I am confident this renewed attention to wetland and grassland acquisition—in concert with the newly established Dakota Grassland Conservation Area— will protect breeding pairs and keep the waterfowl assembly lines humming on the floor of America’s Duck Factory.