Chevrolet and Ducks Unlimited Pair Up for Grasslands

Kristin Peterson
Newsletter Issue: 
April 2015

Ducks in pond
Above: The prairie pothole region produces 50-80% of the duck population 
for North America according to a technical report by The Wildlife Society.

What do you get when you combine ducks, trucks and conservation? In North Dakota’s case, it’s a cutting-edge recipe for environmental success resulting in the conservation of 11,000 acres of grasslands and reducing nearly 40,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Chevrolet recently announced their plans to spend $40 million to purchase eight million tons of carbon credits from livestock farmers and ranchers in North Dakota. The voluntary program will focus on establishing easements on 11 grassland farms. Farmers will continue to grow hay and raise livestock on their farms.

Chevrolet is teaming with Ducks Unlimited and willing farmers to protect land. With the help of USDA and the Climate Trust, a national nonprofit that works on reducing carbon pollution, this program is setting out to make a big impact

Ducks Unlimited fondly refers to the prairie potholes, a region of small-seasonal wetlands and their associated grasslands in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, as the “ducky factory” due to its heavy use by ducks as a breeding ground. According to researchers at the University of Wyoming, more than 97% of the native grasslands in the U.S. have been lost, converted to agriculture. Today these grasslands are the most threatened ecosystem in the country. Ducks Unlimited is working to protect this land from being converted into cropland.

“Our main mission area is wetland conservation in the main states of the prairie pothole region,” said Billy Gascoigne, economist and environmental markets specialist for Ducks Unlimited.  “We also invest heavily in grassland conservation because water foul depend on grasslands to breed in them. By protecting them, we know there are a lot of other benefits beyond just waterfowl--whether its water quality, flood mitigation, retention, or in this case carbon sequestration.”

With greater ability to convert land over time and the added protection of crop insurance, more grassland in the prairie pothole region has been converted to crops.

“Incentives pay landowners to not convert this land into cropland for carbon when it remains grassland instead off being tilled. Carbon exposed to air and is lost when converted,” said Peter Weisberg, program manager at the Climate Trust.

The program pays for performance and actual environmental benefit. Compensation is based on how many tons of carbon is sequestered in the soil. This is a shift from traditional carbon credit programs.  The climate impact from grasslands is significant. According to the EPA, the average vehicle 4.75 metric tons CO2E/vehicle/year. This partnership program will avoid the emissions of 39,383 metric tons of CO2 equal to removing 8,291 vehicles out of the air.

A trio of partners is working to ensure success. Chevrolet is financing the program by purchasing carbon credits to fund the protection of the land. Ducks Unlimited is working with farmers to protect land and track carbon reductions through the program. The Climate Trust, is working as a middleman or broker between Chevrolet and Ducks Unlimited, and offering a guarantee to Chevrolet that they will provide credits from other transactions should the program struggle.

For Weisberg, he sees the real success in the potential this program has shown for other performance-based carbon credit programs. Beyond protecting 11,000 acres, Weisberg has seen excitement for the program grow and similar grants being approved.

“The true momentum comes from the USDA embracing their role. More grants have been created based off this grant,” Weisberg said.

With the help of Climate Trust, the project has been able to achieve its aim. Ducks Unlimited is protecting breeding grounds for fowl and Chevrolet is reducing greenhouse gases.