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Hunter steps out of duck blind to lobby for wetlands restoration

December 06, 2011 at 09:06 PM

Prairie State Outdoors

As a young duck hunter, Glasford resident Mike Kaufmann never gave much thought to where ducks were coming from — or going to — outside of hunting season.

But as Kaufmann learned more about the loss of wetlands where millions of ducks and geese spend the winter, he wanted to learn more — and do more.

According to Ducks Unlimited, up to 14 million ducks and 2 million geese winter on the Gulf Coast from the Louisiana-Mississippi border on the north to the mouth of the Rio Grande River on the south.

Now Kaufmann is a bit nervous but ready to step out of the duck blind and into the halls of Congress to lobby on behalf of efforts to restore coastal wetlands battered by erosion, natural disasters and now the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I’m 26 years old, and I’m just a duck hunter,” Kaufmann said. “I’m coming in there not from the political side but as a duck hunter worried about the future of hunting.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, Kaufmann will be in Washington, D.C., to ask decision makers to support the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act, a bill to direct fines collected as a result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill back into restoration of Gulf states’ economies and ecosystems.

Once in Washington, Kaufmann will meet up with Andy McDaniels, sportsmen’s outreach coordinator of the National Wildlife Federation.

McDaniels said the RESTORE Act is needed to keep fines — to be paid by BP and others responsible for the spill — from being used for unrelated federal spending.

The amounts have not been determined yet, but McDaniels said the range could be anywhere from $5 billion to $21 billion, depending on the amount of oil spilled and other factors.

With pressure on to reduce the U.S. federal budget deficit, those billions of dollars in fines could be hard for lawmakers to resist.

“We’re asking that Congress take a percentage of the fines assessed and put it back into restoring the Gulf as a whole,” he said. “Take the money and put it where the damage was done.”

According to Ducks Unlimited, coastal wetlands that support migrating birds have been disappearing for years now, at the rate of more than a football field every half hour.

The spill is only the latest threat to the marshes.

For 75 years, levee building has cut off the Mississippi River’s sediment from the delta and coastal marshes it helped to build.

Wave action erodes land, and deposition of sediment helps rebuild it.

But if levees keep the river from spreading out across the delta to deposit its sediment load, all of that sediment goes right out the mouth of the Mississippi River and out to sea.

As a result, the process of land building and erosion is out of balance.

In addition, countless channels have been cut through the marsh that also allow saltwater to more easily intrude.

“What we’d like to see are some land-building projects,” McDaniels said. “Let the river do what it is supposed to do and what it is intended to do — build land.”

That would require some water to be diverted into the marshes so its sediment could be deposited again.

“This problem goes back to the 1920s,” he said. “This is not something new. They knew it was going to happen when they built the levees back in the ’20s and ’30s.

McDaniels said the delta already has lost an area the size of Delaware.

“It’s just gone,” he said.

“The RESTORE Act is just common sense,” McDaniels said. “Money shouldn’t go into the general fund. The money should go into restoring the Gulf.”

Kaufmann said he just wants to show that duck hunters care about more than their own recreation.

“I want to show that we do have a heart, and we do care about the animals,” Kaufmann said. “We are about more than shooting a duck and getting meat. It is about conservation — and the hunting part comes after that.”

Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528.

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