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Banding Together for Waterfowl

A New Plan for Waterfowl

The recently revised North American Waterfowl Management Plan will help ensure a bright future for ducks and their habitats
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  • photo by MichaelFurtman.com
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The Need for a Revised NAWMP

Bold advancements in waterfowl conservation are usually spurred by crisis. The depletion of waterfowl populations by market hunters prompted the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Dust Bowl drought of the 1930s brought the Duck Stamp Act and the founding of Ducks Unlimited. The duck crisis of the early 1980s led to the NAWMP and new federal conservation programs such as the Wetlands Reserve Program

Today, we are facing another crisis, this time unrelated to waterfowl numbers. Some contemporary concerns, such as accelerating habitat loss, are all too familiar to conservationists. Others, most notably an eroding base of support for conservation programs, are new. Collectively, they motivated stakeholders to come together to reassess the status of waterfowl conservation and confront the challenges of a new age. That reassessment kindled interest in revising the NAWMP. But why was a new plan necessary, when ducks and geese are now doing so well?
NAWMP partners have invested more than $4 billion in the protection and restoration of 15.7 million acres of wetlands and associated habitats in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Savvy investors know that when stocks are flying high and euphoria is in the air, an economic bubble may be about to burst. Waterfowl populations could be in an analogous situation, and many biologists are concerned that the current pace of habitat loss could soon overtake duck populations. Is a "duck bubble" about to pop? Perhaps, and here's why. Record-high commodity prices are accelerating the plowing of grasslands across the Prairie Pothole Region, eliminating nesting cover for upland-nesting ducks such as mallards, pintails, and blue-winged teal. "Geographically isolated" wetlands like prairie potholes have recently lost federal protection in the United States, and future Farm Bills and weak state and provincial wetland policies may be unable to inhibit future wetland drainage. Higher energy consumption has led to new policies that drive increases in domestic energy production. Oil, gas, and coal developments are disrupting boreal, Arctic, coastal, and even prairie ecosystems. Erosion of shorelines, loss of freshwater coastal marshes, and the expansion of oxygen-depleted "dead zones" in estuaries and the Gulf of Mexico continue to degrade crucial wintering habitat. As global demand for food, fiber, and energy increases, so too will these impacts.

Against this backdrop, the waterfowl management community came together and agreed that the time was right to take a fresh look at the challenges ahead and reconsider the way business was being done. Fifteen consultation workshops were held in the United States, Canada, and Mexico so the viewpoints and concerns of various conservation professionals could be heard and discussed. The participants were asked to reconsider the fundamental goals of waterfowl management and suggest measurable objectives to achieve those goals. Input from these workshops was used to formulate three goals for a revised NAWMP: (1) abundant and resilient waterfowl populations to support hunting and other uses without imperiling habitat; (2) wetlands and related habitats sufficient to sustain waterfowl populations at desired levels, while providing places to recreate and ecological services that benefit society; and (3) growing numbers of waterfowl hunters, other conservationists, and citizens who enjoy and actively support waterfowl and wetlands conservation.

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