Habitat in the Balance
Simply stated, habitat gains must outpace or at least keep pace with habitat losses for waterfowl populations to hold their own. Many conservation challenges now facing DU have been decades in the making. For example, the United States has already lost more than 50 percent of its historical wetlands and 97 percent of its native prairie. In addition, Louisiana's coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 17 square miles each year. In the future, increasing rates of wetland and grassland conversion
to agriculture, expanding urban populations, and other causes are likely to put even more pressure on the habitats that support waterfowl and other wildlife.
Conserving North America's diverse waterfowl habitats cannot be achieved using a one-size-fits-all approach. A combination of habitat protection via acquisition and easements, restoration of habitat on landscapes that have already been altered, and intensive habitat management will be required to meet the needs of waterfowl across this continent. DU's conservation toolbox includes all of these approaches to ensure success on diverse landscapes. In places like the Prairie Pothole Region, where large tracts of waterfowl habitat remain intact but are now seriously threatened, DU works with many partners to permanently protect wetlands and grasslands through direct acquisition or conservation easements
. In regions like the Central Valley of California, the Midwest, and Gulf Coast
, where extensive habitat loss and degradation have already occurred, DU focuses on restoring and intensively managing wetlands and associated habitats. While restored wetlands are never as productive as the original habitats, managers can mimic the natural hydrology (the timing, depth, and frequency of flooding), partially restore upland cover and diversity, and improve water quality in the surrounding watershed.
But DU will not fulfill its mission through direct conservation programs alone. Policies that restore and protect wetlands
are vital to ensuring a secure habitat base for waterfowl and other wildlife. The Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp
, commonly referred to as the federal duck stamp, has raised more than $750 million to secure more than 5 million acres in the National Wildlife Refuge System. In addition, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act
has provided more than $1.1 billion in grants, positively impacting more than 26 million acres of wetlands and associated habitat in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. And Farm Bill
conservation programs, especially the Conservation Reserve Program
and Wetlands Reserve Program
, have helped farmers and ranchers put millions of acres of important waterfowl habitat back on the landscape. DU members have been both supporters and beneficiaries of these programs, and their continued advocacy for these programs and other sources of conservation funding is more important now than ever.
Fortunately, DU is not alone in its conservation mission
. We have always relied on the strength of diverse partnerships with government, other nonprofit organizations, and dedicated individuals. DU will also continue to work with farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness to promote wildlife-friendly agricultural practices on working lands. During the next 75 years, we will strive to strengthen and build on these partnerships to achieve even greater things for wetlands and waterfowl.
A Continental Waterfowl Management Enterprise The North American Waterfowl Management Plan, implemented in 1986, establishes a continental framework for waterfowl conservation. A significant revision, in which DU was heavily involved, was signed in May 2012. Strong emphasis on integrating strategies for waterfowl populations, habitat, and supporters ensures balanced efforts among all the partners involved in waterfowl conservation. DU has become an increasingly prominent part of the continental waterfowl conservation effort. That will not change in decades to come.