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Measuring Conservation Success

How do current waterfowl populations and habitat levels stack up against the goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan?
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A second option was to consider how landscapes important to breeding, migrating, and wintering waterfowl had changed since 1986 and how these compared with the 1970s. To be clear, it has always been understood that duck populations will fall below NAWMP goals during periods of drought. Drought might wither our optimism for the next duck season, but it’s a necessary phase in a wetland’s life cycle. The important question is: Are NAWMP habitat efforts “setting the table” so to speak? When it does rain—and not necessarily in a way that Noah would recognize—can duck populations rebound as they did in the 1970s?

Since 1986, more than 13 million acres of waterfowl habitat have received some sort of protection, often permanent, as a result of joint venture efforts. Joint ventures have also restored or enhanced nearly 11 million acres of wetlands and upland nesting habitat in the United States and Canada. These acre accomplishments testify to the tremendous contribution made by joint venture partners over the past two decades. Unfortunately, in some places ongoing habitat losses have offset conservation gains, so assessing the net effects of landscape change on waterfowl is much more complicated. Thankfully, several joint ventures have invested tremendous effort in evaluating the effectiveness of their programs. Without such investments, evaluating NAWMP would have been impossible.

Evaluating the true impact of NAWMP, or estimating what additional conservation gains must be made, requires knowledge of two fundamental things: how important waterfowl landscapes have changed in terms of wetland or grassland abundance and how these landscape changes have affected waterfowl populations in terms of survival and reproduction. In some places, such as the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR), great strides have been made in developing this essential biological foundation.

In a single magazine article, it is not possible to report on all 22 joint ventures across the United States and Canada. Instead, we have combined joint ventures into those that largely support wintering and migrating waterfowl, and the two joint ventures that are responsible for conserving breeding habitat on the U.S. and Canadian prairies.

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