Ducks Unlimited’s Western Region Director of Public Policy Gary Link recently appeared on the Agricultural Presidents’ Council podcast The Crop Pod with host Cody Boyles to chat on a variety of topics. The APC is California’s premier agriculture leadership organization committed to educating the public on the benefits family farmers and agricultural workers make to California’s economy.
Cody Boyles: Hello everyone and welcome to Crop Pod presented by the Ag President’s Council, California’s premier agriculture leadership organization. APC is committed to educating the public on the tremendous benefits family farmers and agricultural workers make to California’s economy. With this being our first Crop Pod of the year and the end of duck season, we have a very special guest today. We have Gary Link, the director of public policy for the western region of Ducks Unlimited. Gary, thanks for coming on the Crop Pod today.
Gary Link: Hey Cody, thanks for having me on.
Cody: So what is the mission of Ducks Unlimited?
Gary: Ducks Unlimited is a wetlands conservation organization. Our goal is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. We’re continental in focus. We work across all of North America, we cover Canada with DU Canada, we cover Mexico with our DU Mexico partner and then DU Inc. covers the 50 states. We’ve learned that these wetlands and associated habitats benefit wildlife and people. DU is a science-based organization—over half of our staff are biologists and/or engineers who deliver our wetland products. We have biologists, scientists, agronomists, engineers, public policy folks like myself, and fundraising staff all working toward a common goal to populate the sky with waterfowl by restoring wetlands.
We do this via the P3’s—the public, private partnerships. We work with farmers and ranchers who understand the land better than anyone else. And we do this to benefit wildlife, their harvest, and to benefit the planet we all work to make better.
Cody: So when you say waterfowl, what animals are you talking about specifically?
Gary: When we were founded we were specifically worried about waterfowl populations, and I’ll talk more about this later. It’s ducks, it’s geese, it’s birds that migrate primarily to Canada, Alaska, the Prairie Pothole Region, the Boreal Forest and into Alaska that migrate there in the spring and summer to raise their ducklings and then fly south when it gets too cold up there to habitat in the wintering grounds here in the Central Valley of California and across North America.
Cody: When was Ducks Unlimited founded?
Gary: January 29, 1937—four hunters got together and they talked about creating an organization to help rebuild the population which they saw as diminishing back in the 1930s. These four hunters wondered what they were going to call themselves, and our focus back then in 1937 was on Canada, because we knew that most waterfowl bred up there. Up in Canada, the term for a business was ‘Limited,’ and one of the guys was like, “I don’t want limited ducks!” And another guy chimed in, “That’s it, we’re Ducks Unlimited!”
Cody: Pretty self-explanatory. And how long have you been with DU?
Gary: I joined DU in June of 2016. I came from the legislature as a staffer handling many different committee issue areas—natural resources and water being one of those.
Cody: As the public policy director for the western region—what exactly is the western region?
Gary: The western region encompasses nine western states including California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the great state of Hawaii. All of those are configured in the Pacific Flyway. We have four flyways across this nation and the western region encompasses I believe 40 percent of our focus area for Ducks Unlimited.
Cody: In California, how do our efforts to conserve land, rebuild habitat and sustain ecological communities compare to other states in the western region?
Gary: That’s a great question. California, as one part of the western states, it plays a very important role primarily because anywhere from 6 to 7 million waterfowl and half a million shorebirds will migrate to the Central Valley of California—and they do this each year. And this is out of a total population of 47 to 49 million waterfowl that have been counted across North America. They come here just because we used to have an immense amount of wetlands across the Central Valley and the Bay Area. We work to restore those wetlands so ducks will have habitat and food on the ground.
Cody: How exactly do you go about restoring wetlands, what does that mean in practice?
Gary: So what we do is talk with land owners, with state agencies and departments, federal partners, and with local governments to configure and look where water might be moved best to provide habitat restoration and certain types of food resources that are really beneficial for migrating waterfowl. We’ve partnered with the California Rice Commission here in California and USA Rice creating the Rice Stewardship because rice and ducks really go well together. Our science shows us that the food energetics of a rice field for a duck is immense. Sixty percent of their food comes from waste grain on winter-flooded rice fields.
We’ve partnered with (rice farmers) on a national level to create this really great program to highlight the value of our conservation organization and their farming organization to see how we can work together at the state level for policy for grant funding and at the federal level for incentives to make sure that farmers are a little better off for doing conservation on their land in the wintering time periods.
So we’ve done a great deal of partnerships in Congress and in the state houses. They do a really good job working on their efforts with farms and landowners to do their best for habitat efforts. I was on a phone call this morning with folks from Utah to discuss putting more water for the Great Salt Lake.
Cody: So agriculture and conservation go hand in hand? They’re not combative to one another or have separate goals, they actually complement each other, correct?
Gary: That’s very correct. One of the true fathers of conservation, a man named Aldo Leopold—who many of you know is the author of a Sam County Almanac—realized that it was farmers who best understand farmland and that without a proper utilization of that farmland that both benefits the wildlife and benefits the species management of that wildlife, but also benefits the farmer and the communities around. It can’t happen singularly, it has to happen jointly. And DU—from my realm in policy—we work with Congress, with the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture. Here in the state we work with Fish and wildlife, the Natural Resources Agency, the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, the Department of Food and Ag to make sure we’re highlighting this great co-benefit that we are all working on together. It’s not just one individual by themselves, it’s got to be a joint effort for this multi-benefit, multi-species work.
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