WASHINGTON, MAY 7, 2014 – A new study by the conservation group Ducks Unlimited puts a price tag on what it would cost to replace U.S. rice fields with natural wetland habitat for wildfowl – and it wouldn’t be cheap. The cost – a whopping $3.5 billion.
The study was released yesterday at a news conference in Washington, where Ducks Unlimited and the USA Rice Federation are hoping to show policymakers “just how critical rice lands are to waterfowl populations,” DU Chief Executive Dale Hall said.
According to the study, more than 40 percent of the food resources available to wintering dabbling ducks along California’s central Valley and the U.S. Gulf Coast – two of the three main rice-growing regions of the country – derive from flooded rice fields.
“The importance of a strong, viable ride industry goes well beyond the family farmers, rice mills and merchants, to national conservation efforts, said USA Rice Federation President and CEO Betsy Ward. “What’s good for rice, is good for ducks.”
Speakers at the news conference noted that California, the Gulf Coast and the third major rice-growing region, the Mississippi Alluvial Valley – all of which overlap with the continent’s most important waterfowl wintering grounds – are facing challenges related to keeping rice on the land. Water supplies in all three areas are under pressure, and DU says rice producers may be forced to adopt practices that result in far fewer benefits for waterfowl.
On the Gulf Coast, long-term declines in rice acreage are especially worrisome, DU and the Rice Federation said in a news release. Stopping the decline and flooding a greater percentage of rice acreage will be necessary to meet the needs of Gulf Coast waterfowl in the future, they said.
Jason Weller, the head of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, also attended the news conference and praised DU and rice producers for their environmental efforts.
“We applaud the many rice producers who integrate extra conservation measures into their rice production to maintain water quality and provide much-needed waterfowl habitat,’’ Weller said.
Established in 1937, DU has helped conserve more than 13 million acres for wildfowl habitat. Last year, DU and USA Rice established a Stewardship Partnership to lobby for sound agriculture- and conservation-related policies and to promote the ecosystem benefits or rice agriculture.
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