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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Conservation: Fueling the Duck Factory 

For almost 50 years, states have worked with DU to conserve vital waterfowl habitat across Canada
  • Wetland restoration projects in Canada produce waterfowl that migrate and winter across the United States.
    photo by Ducks Unlimited Canada
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By Scott C. Yaich, Ph.D.

Imagine you're a business owner and that for every dollar you invest in your business, anonymous silent partners invest at least another three dollars. Well, that's the deal you get if you're a state conservation agency and you invest in waterfowl habitat conservation in Canada with Ducks Unlimited. For that matter, as a DU member, you get the same deal for your personal investment in the Canadian breeding grounds. The history of a 48-year partnership between DU and the states is a success story of enlightened wildlife management and the continent's first enduring federal-state-private international partnership to conserve waterfowl habitat.  

In 1965, long before the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) or North America Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) were twinkles in anyone's eyes, farsighted leaders from the wildlife agencies of Louisiana, Ohio, and South Carolina founded an innovative program with DU to help conserve waterfowl habitat in Canada. Waterfowl populations in the early 1960s were among the lowest on record, leading to short duck seasons and small bag limits. These agencies were among the first to recognize the importance of conserving the Canadian breeding grounds in order to maintain the duck populations that migrated to their states each fall. 

Approximately 50 to 75 percent of surveyed ducks breed in Canada, in habitats ranging from the lush river valleys along the Pacific coast and the wetland-rich grasslands of the Prairie Pothole Region to the continent-spanning Boreal Forest and beaver pond landscapes of the eastern provinces. Waterfowl research has made clear how the interests and responsibilities of state wildlife agencies are directly tied to these diverse Canadian habitats, which produce a high proportion of the birds that duck hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts in every state enjoy.

With limited resources available to address wildlife conservation needs, state agencies need to be sure that they receive the highest possible return on their hunters' investments in Canada's habitats. A key to doing that is by using waterfowl banding data. Poring over decades of band returns, waterfowl biologists from state agencies and DU work together to target each state's funds to conserve habitat in the regions of Canada that are most important to each state's harvest.    

Between 1965 and 1985, more and more states recognized the importance of Canadian habitats to each state's sportsmen. During this time, the program grew to include 20 states, which collectively contributed about $1.25 million toward habitat conservation annually. However, passage of NAWCA by Congress in 1989 really gave the program a shot in the arm. Intended in large part to fund the vision for waterfowl conservation laid out by the 1986 NAWMP, NAWCA was carefully designed to expand the conservation of wetlands and associated habitats across North America. The NAWMP recognized that the federal government could not alone bear the burden of waterfowl conservation, and it envisioned broad public-private partnerships as the key to success.

To spur the creation of these partnerships, the NAWCA grant program first required that every dollar of federal money be matched by at least one dollar of non-federal funding. In addition, to ensure that the program would be continental in scope, it required that a proportion of the federal funding be used for projects in Canada and Mexico. Taken as a whole, NAWCA created both an incentive and a collective obligation for non-federal partners such as state wildlife agencies and DU to join partnerships for Canadian habitat conservation.


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