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Associated Press, Published February 08 2013

Biologist: Decline in duck populations has begun in US

NEW ORLEANS – Larry Reynolds is a reasoned, respected scientist who isn’t prone to hyperbole, but the state’s waterfowl study leader is also a passionate duck hunter.

That’s why he can’t really understand the apathy he’s seen from his fellow waterfowlers as the continent moves headlong into a very preventable duck disaster.

“One thing I’ve been very disappointed in is the reaction from the rank-and-file duck hunters,” Reynolds said.

The problem stems from the fact that the federal government is mandating ethanol usage in the country, a move begun in the Bush administration that has accelerated under President Barack Obama. As every grocery shopper knows, the use of corn in the production of ethanol has caused a severe spike in grain prices.

In August, corn reached a record-high price of $8.49 per bushel. As recently as 2005, it was $1.96 a bushel.

That hits waterfowl hunters especially hard because farmers across the fruited plain are draining wetlands and other marginal farm lands to put in crops to take advantage of the windfall.

To Reynolds, the most painful element of all of this is that it’s so preventable. Adequate funding of the Conservation Reserve Program would incentivize American farmers to neglect their wetlands, which is the best thing they could do for ducks and other ground-nesting game birds.

But farmers are turning less-profitable CRP land into crops just as fast as they can.

CRP land in the Prairie Pothole Region has annually added more than 2 million ducks to the fall flight of waterfowl, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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