A Plan for Ducks and People
Waterfowl population and habitat goals have always been the foundation of the NAWMP, but an explicit goal related to people is new. Why did people emerge as a primary goal in a waterfowl plan? Essentially, it's because we have tended to take people for granted. The revised NAWMP advocates that the needs and desires of people must be clearly understood and explicitly addressed. This important distinction—people as a focus of management actions versus simply a recipient of management outcomes—was intended to motivate the waterfowl management community to expand its understanding of hunters, wildlife watchers, and the public.
Other Benefits of Waterfowl Conservation
Many of us enjoy the fruits of waterfowl conservation when ducks set their wings and glide into our decoys. But in an era when much of the public is disconnected from nature, the funding and policies necessary to support waterfowl conservation will not be achieved based solely on the joys of waterfowling, but also on the value of conservation to the quality of life of everyone. That's where so-called "ecological goods and services" come in. In addition to providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife, wetlands store floodwater, protect coastlines, purify runoff, and recharge groundwater supplies. By maintaining our focus on waterfowl but marketing the many other benefits that our work provides society, we can achieve a much broader base of support for our conservation mission.
A trend of great concern to NAWMP partners is declining participation in waterfowl hunting. For nearly 80 years, hunters have been leading supporters of waterfowl conservation in North America. In the United States, sales of federal duck stamps have generated more than $750 million, which has been used to purchase or lease more than 6 million acres of wetlands and upland nesting habitat. Hunters have also been effective advocates for policies that conserve habitat and fund conservation programs. In short, ducks have needed hunters as much as hunters have needed ducks. We tended to take this symbiotic relationship for granted until the late 1990s, when annual numbers of waterfowl hunters failed to recover to levels observed during the early 1970s, the last time that duck populations were at similar levels.
Recruiting and retaining more waterfowl hunters is a high priority of the revised NAWMP. But the authors also determined that broadening the NAWMP's base of support will be essential to the future sustainability of waterfowl conservation programs. A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study found that more than 13 million people in the United States travel a mile or more from home to view waterfowl.
That's roughly 10 times the number of waterfowl hunters in the United States. Some of these individuals already support conservation through the purchase of duck stamps and entrance permits, and by supporting DU and other conservation organizations. Increasing conservation support from this large group of other waterfowl "users" is also a high priority of the NAWMP.
Moreover, in this age of increasing fiscal austerity, we cannot hope to sustain public funding for conservation programs unless the general public is on board. There are simply too many competing interests and worthy causes. But how do we accomplish this with a public that is increasingly disconnected from nature? While not everyone will be as enamored with waterfowl as we are, most people care about water quality, floodwater retention, and other environmental benefits that come from conserving waterfowl habitats (see sidebar). We must ensure that average citizens recognize that an investment in wetlands and waterfowl conservation is also an investment in things they care about.
NAWCA Vital to Plan's Success
Shortly after the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) was signed in 1986, the plan's backers set out to secure funding to support their ambitious conservation agenda. The search led to the halls of Congress, where sympathetic lawmakers were briefed about the duck crisis. The lobbying paid off with the passage of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which was signed into law in 1989.
NAWCA provided much of the seed money that helped kick-start many early NAWMP projects. Building on the partnership model established by the NAWMP, this visionary legislation required at least one dollar in nonfederal matching funds for every federal dollar awarded through NAWCA grants. Over the years, DU and other NAWMP partners have far exceeded this requirement, offering more than three dollars in matching funds for every NAWCA dollar contributed by the federal government. Combined federal and nonfederal funding under NAWCA now totals over $4 billion, which has resulted in the protection and restoration of 15.7 million acres of wetlands and associated wildlife habitats across this continent.