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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Ducks 2050

What might the coming decades hold for waterfowl and duck hunters?
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As Mark Twain purportedly said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fightin’ over,” and the fightin’ has already begun. Agriculture uses more than 85 percent of all U.S. freshwater resources, and groundwater provides 31 percent of that. But groundwater is being used 25 percent faster than it is being recharged. At current pumping rates, the huge Ogallala Aquifer underlying much of the southern Great Plains will stop yielding significant amounts of water by 2050. Water demands for other uses will grow, too, competing with the needs of waterfowl. Water use in Texas is expected to increase 27 percent by 2050, and urban demand in already water-deficient California will increase 33 percent by 2030.  
All these people will need space, too. In 1950, only 9 percent of the United States was in metropolitan statistical areas. That will increase to 35 percent by 2050. By 2025, developed land will increase to 170 million acres from 95 million in 1997. In California, developed land will double from about 5 million to 10 million acres. This development will eliminate a lot of waterfowl habitat and affect much more due to the “bow-wave” effect that extends far beyond expanding development.
Finally, larger populations and higher standards of living will dramatically increase the demand for energy. World energy demand could increase 50-100 percent by 2020, and U.S. energy consumption could more than double by 2050. Many scientists believe energy use has been an important driver of worldwide climate change. Temperatures around the globe have increased as atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations have increased, and 1997 through 2005 were the warmest years on record. Many waterfowlers have noticed possible impacts of climate change on their hunting.

Changes to Waterfowl Habitats and Populations

Our increased demands for food, water, energy, and living space could take a toll on waterfowl habitats and populations. Two factors—increases in agricultural acreage within a species’ range and the total number of threats faced by the species (habitat loss, pollution, and other stressors)—are the best predictors of waterfowl population decline. Long-term trends in both factors provide warnings as we look ahead and should help us focus on what we can do now to protect the future of waterfowl.

Breeding Habitats

The two most important waterfowl breeding regions in North America are the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and western boreal forest. We cannot maintain waterfowl populations if we do not successfully conserve the capabilities of these regions to produce ducks. Increased losses of grassland will greatly affect the PPR, potentially eliminating millions of acres of native prairie and grassland nesting habitat. Only 4.1 million of the original 10 million acres of native grassland in the PPR’s Missouri Couteau remain today. Based on current trends, researchers project that there could be fewer than 3 million acres by 2067 (see sidebar). If the 2007 and future farm bills   remove incentives for conservation, millions of acres of nesting habitat will be lost. Conservation Reserve Program lands, which could be gone, produce over 2 million ducks per year, more than the harvest of the entire Atlantic Flyway. This habitat loss, along with the continuing loss of potholes and other wetlands, would significantly reduce waterfowl production from the region.

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