Starting with a breakthrough project at Marsh Island in Iberia Parish, Ducks Unlimited has poured more than $50 million into habitat improvement and preservation with its waterfowl projects in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

Derrick Davis of Lafayette touched on the subject at the New Iberia DU Banquet in October. Davis is the Southwest Louisiana Regional director for DU who moved here recently from Virginia and replaced George Horton, who served 18 years in that position before retiring in August.

Davis also released a map of this region showing completed projects over the past 16 years, one featuring blue ducks signifying work on public lands and red ducks showing work on private lands around south central Louisiana. Those projects totalled $2.4 million and covered 4,623 acres (private land) and 9,773 acres (public land) in this region.

Before 1985, DU money raised in the United States was used in Canada. That changed in the mid-1980s.

“That project you see there at Marsh Island is one of the first projects DU did in the United States. It was completed in 1985,” Davis said several weeks ago about the marsh management unit, which had been damaged by a storm.

What was done at Marsh Island proves DU cares about waterfowl habitat in critical areas of North America. Armond Schwing, past state chairman of DU, said as much last week while warming up to his one of his favorite subjects.

“Projects undertaken by Ducks Unlimited are great because they try to gain back the capacity to hold ducks. At the same time they’re good for coastal communities and help maintain the natural estuary we have in South Louisiana for the fishery,” Schwing said.

“They recognize that coastal Louisiana is such an important habitat for wintering waterfowl that on a national basis it is one of the top priority areas,” he said. 

“The work DU is doing across the entire coast of Louisiana is extremely critical. I think they’ve done enough with the funds they’ve had available. however, the conservation staff in South Louisiana is always working on new projects, finding work that can be done and taking on funds for more projects.”

Thirteen of the projects have been on private lands, Davis said, noting the reason there is a private lands program is than more than 70 percent of the wetlands is privately owned. DU staff biologists field reuests from landowners to provide technical assistance, look at their property, evaluate it for waterfowl potential and make recommendations, he said.

The benefit to the landowner is the conservation organization provides technical assistance and cost-sharing, such as funding available to landowners to provide cost-share on water control structures, Davis said.

The Teche Area has been a big beneficiary.

“For that four-parish area, we’ve actually contributed $1.2 million for private landowners to manage their property,” Davis said.

DU projects also have been completed in the Atchafalaya Basin at Attakapas Wildlife Management Area, where a water control structure was built around 1999, and Sherburne WMA in Iberville Parish. Three projects have been finished at Sherburne WMA in intensely managed areas used for lottery duck hunts and for youth hunts.

“We’ve done three projects at Sherburne. (And) after next year, add another blue duck,” he said.

That project calls for refurbishing or building levees, installing new water control structures and extending an underground irrigation system allow flooding on those units, he said. A little more than $100,000 for that work will come from the state Department of Motor Vehicle sale of vanity license plates, Davis said, where the money goes into a fund for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and when it reaches a certain level DW&F and DU meet to decide on a project to use the money, such as Sherburne WMA. 

DU recently completed its 29th project in conjunction with the DW&F, DU’s regional director said. That was in Lafourche Parish.

“Marsh Island was No. 1 and Lafourche was No. 29,” Davis said, proudly.

When Schwing looks at that map he sees a commitment that keeps him active in DU. The 46-year-old vice president of Schwing Insurance Agency started his DU career locally as chairman of the fundraising committee, then served in various roles on the state executive committee, including recruiting chairman, before becoming DU state chairman in 2008. 

He is serving on the DU national membership committee, a one-year term that ends Dec. 31. He attended the state convention in July.

“What struck me this past summer at the meeting I attended, the reason I’m still involved is the reason I’ve been involved from the beginning. I believe in Ducks Unlimited’s mission. I think the work they do benefits everyone,” he said. “It benefits wildlife, certainly, but it benefits people as well and I want to see the waterfowling heritage I grew up with enjoyed for continuing generations. My kids love togo hunting. I want them to keep going and experience sitting in a duck blind at sunrise with their children one day.”

How effective is DU?

“A testament to their ability to get things done efficiently and have the greatest impact is that after the BP oil spill, BP put up millions of dollars to address issues they were concerned about and administer those projects,” Schwing said. In addition, Gov. (Bobby) Jindal has used coastal conservation money in his budget to flow through DU for them to go and get matching money from the federal government to try to mitigate coastal erosion.”쇓

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