2020 was a spectacular year for Montana Ducks Unlimited (DU) given the operational hurdles faced throughout the year. Montana DU kept the bar high with record-breaking fundraising dollars, technical assistance acres, and protected acres. With the help of private landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and land trusts, Montana DU protected over 64,000 acres of grassland, wetland, and farmland throughout the state. Landowner interest and demand for conservation programs in Montana is strong.
What’s good for the cows is good for the ducks, and that is grass and water. This is a saying we at Montana Ducks Unlimited go by. Over the last few years, landowner interest for conservation easements has increased significantly. These voluntary conservation programs provide a wide array of options for landowners to choose from depending on eligibility, enabling them to select an easement program that fits their operational objectives. Lands in contractual or perpetual conservation easements are guaranteed to never be developed, therefore they can often remain in agricultural working lands.
Last spring, Montana Ducks Unlimited kicked off a pilot cover crop program. 450 acres of both cool and warm season cover crops were planted on priority waterfowl habitat throughout the Hi-line. The primary objective of the DU cover crop program is to help producers plant cover crops, improve soil health, improve water quality by reducing chemical and fertilizer runoff, and decrease sedimentation in wetlands. Consequently, this will lead to healthier, functioning wetlands and improved waterfowl habitat. The cover crop program also seeks to reduce grazing and haying pressure on range and pasture grounds during peak nesting season by increasing forage opportunities for producers with mixed operations. This will improve priority waterfowl nesting habitat in agriculture dominated areas on the Hi-line.
Montana Ducks Unlimited has no doubt that landowner interest and conservation efforts will continue to remain high, especially with new conservation program opportunities and increasing interest that is impacting Montana at a landscape scale.