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Conservation & Politics

Federal Duck Stamp Fee Set To Increase

by David Hart   |  December 3rd, 2014 0

duck-stamp

After years of stops and starts, waterfowl conservationists are finally getting their wish: The price of a Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp will go up by $10, likely in time for next season.

A bill sponsored by Representative John Fleming (R-LA) passed the House in November with broad bi-partisan support. A companion bill, The Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014 (S. 2621), was sponsored by Senator David Vitter (R-LA). It passed the Senate, also with strong support on both sides of the aisle, in December.

The price increase was welcome news to duck hunters and wetlands conservationists who have been pleading with Congress to raise the price of a duck stamp for at least a decade. The cost of a postage stamp increased 14 times during the same period, but the infamously slow political process, along with reluctance over raising a perceived tax, hampered congressional efforts to approve a fee hike. Americans for Prosperity ripped the Federal Duck Stamp Act of 2014, calling it a tax increase on duck hunters.

“Duck stamp revenue fits the bill of Washington ineptitude — the user fee on hunters is used to give more land to the federal government, which already owns over a quarter of all the land in the country and cannot manage it properly,” the group wrote in a blog post in November.

AFP clearly didn’t do its homework. Support for the stamp increase has been widespread throughout the duck hunting and conservation community. Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl pushed for the increase. So did dozens of other pro-hunting conservation groups.

The money generated from the sale of duck stamps, which are required for all migratory waterfowl hunters over 16, goes directly to easement acquisition or the outright purchase of high-quality wetlands habitat, not into the federal government’s general fund. Land includes waterfowl production areas in the Prairie Pothole Region, along with national wildlife refuges, many of which are open to hunting.

More than $800 million has been generated from the sale of the stamps since they were first required in 1934 and more than 6 million acres of wetlands have been protected. The program also has one of the highest returns-on-investment of any federal program. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar generated goes directly to land acquisition or on-the-ground efforts.

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership director of government relations Steve Kline said the additional $10 will go only to easement acquisition, a stipulation that was written in the bill. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he noted.

“We can actually do more with easements, in part because the cost of land has gotten so high in recent years,” he said. “Dedicating the increased revenue to easements also frees up the rest of the money generated from duck stamps for land purchases, so it’s a win-win.”

Land prices in some parts of the Prairie Pothole Region, known as the “Duck Factory,” have tripled in the last decade, thanks largely to soaring commodity prices. Farmers are plowing under native grassland and opting out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), both of which provide critical nesting and brood-rearing habitat for waterfowl, so they can plant more crops. According to a report by the Wildlife Management Institute, an acre of duck habitat in the PPR purchased with stamp revenue cost about $306 in 1991. The same land was selling for over $1,000 in 2010.

“That’s one reason why the stamp increase was so important right now. We are losing high-quality nesting habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region and land prices may continue to increase,” adds Kline.

Although it isn’t known when President Barack Obama will sign the legislation into law, Kline and other conservation group representatives have no doubt he will sign it.

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