In eastern Canada, habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation represent the greatest threats to waterfowl. In some agricultural and urban zones of Ontario and Quebec, 90 percent of historic wetlands are gone. Here, retention and restoration of inland wetlands are essential for breeding waterfowl. Another priority is to protect Canada's remaining 82,000 acres of Great Lakes coastal wetlands to ensure staging habitat is available to meet the needs of migrating waterfowl.
In Atlantic Canada, a remarkable new partnership has come together to ensure the long-term productivity of DU's wetland projects. Thanks to generous support from U.S. state and federal partners, DU, and local volunteers, 111,000 acres of wetland projects were completed years ago in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island. But as DU's wetland inventory grew, so did requirements to manage these habitats. A novel partnership, championed by New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, has enlisted matching support from each province, Canada's federal government, and private sources to create a $6 million fund that will generate revenue in perpetuity to ensure sound management of these wetland assets. This commitment is great testimony to the appreciation Canadians have for this heritage collection of DU projects originally built with U.S. help.
Making it Happen
DU Canada and its continental partners comprise a dedicated force for conservation. As of 2008, DU and its NAWMP partners have completed more than 8,400 projects. Canadian partners have invested some $735 million while receiving $377 million in matching U.S. federal funding and $402 million from state agencies, foundations, and other private sources like DU members. This partnership has been a great deal for conservation in Canada and for American duck hunters, given that 90 percent of the continental waterfowl harvest occurs in the United States (see sidebar).
DU's leadership 70 years ago established the principle of sharing the load as well as sharing the bounty. Subsequent creative mechanisms like the matching funds formula for U.S. federal wetland grants have enabled continuing investment in habitat conservation in both countries. Remarkably, this notion of partnering across borders has survived even recent wrenching funding cutbacks in most state governments. Despite the challenges faced at home, most of our state partners in the United States have found ways to continue supporting conservation in Canada. Given the choices many have had to make, that commitment is remarkable indeed.
Our three symbolic ducks, of course, never knew about all this. They and their kin only knew that as they traveled the breadth of this continent, seeking food, safety, and other necessities of life, they found sufficient wetlands, grasslands, and other habitats to meet their needs. May we work together to ensure it is always so—despite all that we humans do to diminish the land and water we have borrowed from our children and the obstacles that our invisible political boundaries put in the way. May we remain committed to doing the very best we can for the birds.
Dr. Mike Anderson is director of science and adaptation at DU Canada headquarters at Oak Hammock Marsh, Manitoba.
Conservation Without Borders
The distribution of breeding ducks across North America varies considerably on an annual basis. The habitats the birds use are highly dynamic, and their breeding numbers, distribution, and production follow suit. The proportion of breeding ducks in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) during the past two decades has ranged from 45 percent in 1991 to 67 percent in 1997. Dramatic shifts in duck distribution also occur from year to year within the PPR in response to changing wetland conditions. In 2009, a record 34 percent of all surveyed ducks were tallied in the U.S. portion of the PPR. Wetland habitats improved dramatically in the Great Plains states this spring following several relatively dry years, and the ducks responded accordingly.
In other years, when water is more abundant in the Canadian PPR, a greater proportion of ducks settle in this region. And when both the U.S. and Canadian prairies are dry, as they were during the late 1980s and early 1990s, wetlands in the boreal forest and Arctic play an especially important role in sustaining duck populations. That's why a continental perspective is required when planning and delivering habitat conservation for waterfowl.