Local Ducks Unlimited in search of new projects

<I>File photo</I><BR>Geese are among the game bird species that benefit by habitat built by Ducks Unlimited.

Ducks Unlimited in Wallowa County has not had any new major projects in the last year, but Wallowa County chairman Gene Bieraugel is optimistic that will change in 2006. One of the reasons Bieraugel continues to have a positive outlook is because membership has been on the rise for the past several years and is now at an all-time high of 120, which includes 20 committee members.

Though no major Ducks Unlimited projects are currently underway in the county, Bieraugel hopes to implement some small projects in the coming months. He is looking at, possibly, some fencing or the construction of nesting boxes to improve duck habitat, and hence duck hunting, in the county.

The 65-year-old Ducks Unlimited organization works to improve habitats for many kinds of animals in addition to ducks. Listed in their literature are various waterfowl, Canada geese, dusky Canada geese, tundra swans, raptors, pheasants, elk and anadromous (migrating) fish that benefit from their activities.

The group is "Filling the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever," according to its website, which offers information on hunting, wildlife biology, ongoing projects and more.

In its early years, the group's emphasis was on waterfowl habitat in Canada, but over the years it has expanded to include much of the United States and Mexico.

Since 1937, the organization has raised $1.725 billion to accomplish its goals. Of that total, 83 percent goes for wetlands and waterfowl conservation, 13 percent for fund-raising and development, and four percent for administrative and human resources. At present, the North American organization has 628,000 adult members and 71,000 greenwing (17 and under) members.

Of the 10,318,872 acres that Ducks Unlimited has conserved since 1937, 5,941,219 acres have been conserved in Canada, 2,667,567 acres in the United States and 1,710,086 acres conserved in Mexico.

Currently, the closest active conservation project to Wallowa County is the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area near La Grande. The first 700-acre phase was completed early this year with another 640 acres of waterfowl habitat soon to follow.

DU Regional Biologist Steve Donovan is interested in potential three-acre, five-acre, or even 50-acre sites. One motto he professes to go by is "restoring wetlands one acre at a time." Still, he adds with a smile, "the bigger the better." Obvious potential sites for habitat projects are locations that are already marshy or that used to be marshy. Yet, Donovan said, projects can be approved on gently sloping sagebrush country where landowners would want water for livestock.

Although many funding sources require a cost share element, Donovan said that he almost always drafts the paperwork so that the cost share portion does not come back on the landowner. He is of the opinion that the landowner has done enough by supplying the land.

Once a site is secured, it takes about two years to get the new wetland on the ground, Donovan said. He said that D.U. projects rarely conflict with environmental fish issues, yet still have to go through the Endangered Species Act permitting process. That process, securing the grant money to finance the project, and getting excavators to work on the land commonly takes two years. Vegetation and trees are included in the project, though wetlands often have the capacity to re-vegetate themselves, Donovan said.

Persons wishing more information about D.U. in Wallowa County may phone county Ducks Unlimited chapter co-chairman Gene Bieraugel at (541) 828-7795 or Donovan at (360) 885-2011.

A major event conducted locally in 2004 under the guidance of then chairwoman Diane Knox was the annual banquet attended by some 60 persons. Held at The Outlaw Restaurant in Joseph, the benefit banquet raised $1,500 for the international organization. This year, the chapter is once again preparing to host its banquet on Nov. 17 at the VFW hall in Enterprise. The VFW auxiliary will be in charge of serving food.

Sign-up membership fees for Ducks Unlimited amount to $25. Bieraugel said that a reasonable percentage of members are avid duck hunters.

The smaller projects Bieraugel envisions for Wallowa County would involve more labor than dollars, he said. He is interested in learning "what hoops one needs to jump through" to bring a major Ducks Unlimited conservation to Wallowa County.

One may learn more about Ducks Unlimited at (www.ducks.org).

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