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In Arkansas, duck hunting isn't just a hobby; it's a way of life, deeply ingrained in our culture, history, and economy from the very beginning and passed down for generations.

As the 2020-21 season begins, Arkansans and our visitors alike can head out to the blind, excited that they're doing so in the mecca of duck hunting. Located in the heart of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Arkansas is a world-renowned haven for waterfowl habitat, conservation and, of course, duck hunting.

However, it isn't just Arkansans who support this Natural State tradition. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), Arkansas hosts more than 100,000 hunters each year, many to hunt our iconic flooded timber. These hunters support Arkansas' economy by contributing an estimated economic impact of over $70 million annually, or about $1 million each day duck season is open.

We are honored to represent Arkansans in the U.S. House of Representatives, and one of our shared priorities is to make sure our state remains the "Duck Capital of the World" for future generations of our sportsmen and women. Securing this heritage starts with restoring our state's flooded timber legacy.

There are more than 50,000 acres of greentree reservoirs (GTRs) on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) across the state. Levees and other infrastructure used to manage these GTRs have become woefully outdated and, in many cases, fallen into complete disrepair after more than 50 years of use. The consequences of this are dire: Desirable trees are being lost and damaged at an alarming rate. According to forest health data collected in 2014, 82 percent of willow oaks on these GTRs are significantly damaged due to water stress, with upwards of 40 percent believed to have suffered irreversible damage.

Fortunately, Ducks Unlimited and AGFC have embarked on a private-public partnership to restore the fortunes of Arkansas' GTRs. Just this past year, they, along with private and corporate partners, have invested more than $4 million to begin repairing and replacing outdated infrastructure. These repairs are slated for the Earl Buss Bayou Deview, Dave Donaldson Black River, and Henry Gray Hurricane Lake WMAs to ensure water can be moved more efficiently to encourage growth and regeneration of desirable oaks. Similar projects are set to kick off at other WMAs across the state.

There are years of work ahead, but this partnership is the first step toward the improvement and restoration of Arkansas' GTRs.

Public-private partnerships have always been a winning formula. In 2013, Ducks Unlimited and USA Rice Federation formed a similar partnership, known as the Rice Stewardship Partnership, which has achieved great success in helping farmers implement sustainable practices. These practices have been vital for protecting farmlands, which are also used for duck hunting following harvest season. There is no doubt that Arkansas could see this kind of success when it comes to restoring the health of our flooded timber with a little additional help from Congress.

Just last month, President Trump signed into law the America's Conservation Enhancement (ACE) Act, legislation that we unanimously supported the passage of in the House. Perhaps the most important conservation program included in the ACE Act is reauthorization of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). In Arkansas alone, NAWCA has conserved more than 77,000 acres of wildlife habitat and has conserved the breeding grounds in the Prairie Pothole Region, the area in which most of Arkansas' ducks are hatched.

Programs like NAWCA are critical to the recovery of our greentree reservoirs and waterfowl populations, and we'll continue to support similar programs and policies in Congress that conserve waterfowl habitat.

It's not just duck hunters who stand to benefit; wetlands support a lot more than just waterfowl. Just like coastal wetlands protect cities from intense storms and flooding, these floodplain forests offer similar protection for our rural and agricultural communities here in Arkansas.

We agree that these forests, many of which occur on our WMAs and National Wildlife Refuges, should be viewed as a form of natural infrastructure that protects our communities. For reference, along with the acreage in these GTRs, the 175,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests on WMAs store approximately 123,000 acres of carbon; that's the equivalent of 1 million barrels of oil, 97,000 passenger cars driven for a year, or 57.5 billion smartphones charged.

The economic and environmental value of duck hunting and waterfowl conservation in the Natural State is immense, but the importance of ducks and the flooded woods is much more deeply ingrained in our state.

As Arkansans, we're blessed to live, work, and raise our children here while passing along our unique traditions. That is why we're committed to working in Congress to support our public and private partners like Ducks Unlimited and AGFC to preserve this important part of our heritage and our society. Good luck this season!

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Rick Crawford represents Arkansas' 1st District, French Hill represents Arkansas' 2nd District, Steve Womack represents Arkansas' 3rd District, and Bruce Westerman represents Arkansas' 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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