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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Atlantic Canada - More Information

Background information on DU's Atlantic Canada conservation priority area
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Agricultural Lowland Landscape

Landscape area Atlantic region 64,572 km 2 , Maritimes 20,000 km 2 (9,000 in small wood lots), Quebec 44,572 km 2
Proportion of land base Atlantic Region 3%, Maritimes 15%, Quebec 2.6%
Wetland area Atlantic region 491,700 ha, Maritimes 46,000 ha (mean 2.3 ha/km 2 , range 0.3 – 8.8), Quebec 445,700 ha (mean 10 ha/km 2 , range 5-24)
DU-managed wetlands Atlantic region 30,000 ha, Maritimes 14,000 ha, Quebec 16,000 ha
Breeding pairs of waterfowl Atlantic region 201,600, Maritimes 10,000, Quebec 191,600
Staging waterfowl Atlantic region 1,500,000, Maritimes 150,000 ducks and 100,000 geese, Quebec 250,000 ducks and 1,000,000 geese
Wintering waterfowl St. Lawrence 50,000 ducks and geese
Waterfowl goals Maritimes 20,000 breeding pairs, Quebec 256,000 breeding pairs and 1.5 million staging birds.

The agricultural landscape ranges from intensive corn and grain cultivation to a mosaic of farmed land, small woodlots, rough cover and urban development. Major rivers and the surrounding valley (i.e. St. Lawrence River and estuary and St. John River), Bay of Fundy dyked land, and the Northumberland Plain are included in the landscape. In Quebec, agriculture continues to intensify with 26% of the land base being farmed. However, in some areas up to 60% of the land is farmed. Corn, cereal, dairy, and beef make up most of the active farm practices. In the Maritimes, agricultural activity peaked in the early 1900s when 30% of the total Maritime land base was actively farmed. Today, farming occurs on 15% of the land base, but at greater intensity. Potato, dairy, beef, hogs, sheep as well as vegetables and fruit make up most of the active farming practices. More than 70% of the Atlantic population lives in this area. Consequently the land is primarily privately owned. Urban expansion is steadily increasing and changing this landscape.

Wetland loss in this landscape is difficult to determine since most of the loss occurred prior to aerial photography. In addition, there are no wetland inventories in Quebec. We do know that wetland loss did occur on a fairly large scale in some regions. Upgrading and maintenance of land drainage continues to reduce the extent of wetland areas. In the Maritimes, DU has played a key role by conserving 30% of the wetlands in the landscape through restoration and enhancement. DU's program has focused on the best quality-breeding habitat. Beaver ponds are important habitats but have fluctuated greatly in numbers over time. Wetland loss continues through small-scale drainage and in filling. Slower and less obvious actions such as sedimentation and eutrophication decrease the functional value of wetlands to waterfowl, other wildlife and people.

Agricultural lands support a rich diversity of waterfowl species during both the breeding and staging period. The productive wetlands in this landscape result in the greatest breeding densities of all the landscapes in Atlantic Canada. Waterfowl estimates however, are limited by the lack of good survey information and population estimates are likely conservative. While loss of wetlands has resulted in a reduction of the waterfowl carrying capacity for breeding birds, the availability of nutrient rich food, both in the form of waste grain, and green forage has greatly improved the value of this landscape for staging waterfowl. DU has been successful in securing and managing many of the highest quality wetlands in this landscape.

The vision that DU has set for this landscape is to protect the existing habitat base and increase waterfowl numbers through habitat protection and restoration.

Goals

  • Double the waterfowl breeding population to 20,000 pairs, by increasing the average wetland density in the Maritimes from the current level of 2.3 ha/km2 to 4 ha/km2 through the protection and restoration of quality wetlands.
  • Protect and restore wetlands and uplands within the St. Lawrence lowlands to provide habitat for 256,000 breeding pairs.
  • Protect and restore 5,000 ha of nesting cover on critical nesting islands in the St. Lawrence River and estuary to enhance local production.
  • Maintain the current quality DU projects and improve their management for waterfowl and other wildlife species towards the goal of 20,000 breeding pairs in the Maritimes.

Assumptions

  • Physical and functional wetland loss has occurred and the potential for future expansion of both agriculture and urbanization exists.
  • Quality, nutrient rich brood habitat is the major factor limiting waterfowl numbers.
  • Nesting cover is usually not limiting, however, in areas of intensive agricultural activity, nesting cover and direct mortality factors such as predation and loss to farm equipment may be limiting waterfowl numbers.
  • Recreational activities often cause significant disturbance to breeding waterfowl.
  • Restoration of degraded wetlands will result in increased waterfowl populations providing that existing wetlands are not further degraded or lost.
  • Maintain quality habitat for the 1.5 million staging waterfowl.

Strategies

  • Develop a decision support system to focus conservation efforts in the most important and most at risk parts of this large and diverse landscape.
  • Employ direct intervention to protect and restore wetlands.
  • Use extension, easements and promote beneficial public policies to protect wetlands by focusing on wildlife friendly farming practices and upland threats such as soil erosion, wastewater management, non-native plant invasions and urban expansion.
  • Monitor land use and social changes as well as waterfowl and wetland numbers to guide program adjustments.
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