So DU pursues a two-pronged approach: 1) enlist as many duck-minded supporters as we can, in both Canada and the United States, to generate financial and political support for conservation work, and 2) engage as many other citizens as possible based on all the values derived from habitat conservation, like improved water quality, flood control, carbon storage, and benefits to wildlife. By attracting a broad coalition of conservation supporters, DU can muster the public awareness, private support, and political clout needed to devise and implement conservation-friendly public policies. Essential dollars from all our sponsors help pay for the kinds of habitat projects that keep DU a trusted conservation company.
Wetlands remain key in both strategies. In a recent analysis of habitat trends, DU's Jim Devries and colleagues demonstrated that over the past 20 years the amount of annually tilled land in Prairie Canada has decreased by some 10 million acres as farmers have converted marginal cropland to forage and pasture. If wetland numbers present in the early 1970s had been maintained, this increase in nesting cover would have likely achieved NAWMP's long-term waterfowl population goals. But because of wetland loss, we have achieved only about 25 percent of those goals on the prairies—a good start, but there is much left to do.
Another successful avenue for change is working with agriculture to promote waterfowl-friendly cropping practices. DU's preference is to encourage conversion of annual cropland to perennial grass. Where that is not an option, we encourage alternatives like winter wheat and other fall-seeded cereals that provide fairly attractive and safe nesting cover for ducks. DU's work with plant breeders at the University of Saskatchewan has resulted in the development of winter wheat varieties that are better adapted to Canadian landscapes. As a result, the acreage of winter wheat planted in Prairie Canada has jumped during the past five years from 420,000 acres to 1,245,000 acres.
The conservation challenges in the boreal forest are completely different. In this remote region, DU is working to identify the most important waterfowl habitats and then learn what makes these places special. In this way, we can offer industry and governments ideas about "best management practices" that will avoid or minimize development impacts on productive wetlands. This approach also provides information that can help aboriginal communities and governments secure protected area designation for the "best of the best" waterfowl habitats, like Hume-Ramparts and Old Crow Flats. In the past six years alone, this dual approach of land-use planning and protected area designation has conserved 13 million acres of wetlands and associated ecosystems in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.