Conservation choices in a complex world
Now suppose that you had $1 million to invest in conservation actions to help secure the productive capacity of this duck factory for all time. Where within this diverse region would you invest those precious dollars? Should you focus on protecting intact habitats or restoring lost habitat? Should restorations be focused in badly degraded landscapes or mostly intact landscapes? And in each place, is restoring wetlands or upland nesting cover more important? Should you invest in areas best suited to northern pintails, mallards, lesser scaup, or canvasbacks? The questions quickly get complicated.
Then there's the matter of how to accomplish the work. Should you invest in engineering works to restore drained wetlands? ... work with the forest industry to sustain wetlands where agriculture is gnawing away at the forest fringe? ... purchase intact parkland habitats from willing sellers? ... improve grazed landscapes in Saskatchewan and the Dakotas? ... fund grassland easements in the Missouri Coteau? ... work with farmers to promote cultivation of duck-friendly winter wheat? ... or, work with legislators in Ottawa, Washington, and the provincial/state capitals to promote changes in government policies that will benefit ducks and people?
H.L. Mencken is credited with the advice that "There is a simple answer to everything and it's wrong." He wasn't talking about designing habitat conservation programs, but he could have been. While few fixes are "wrong," certainly the best approach differs from place to place.
Within the Prairie Pothole Region, places differ in the abundance of wetlands, human land-use, agricultural policies, predator communities, soil, climate, and the frequency and duration of wet and dry periods. Not only are there manifold possible combinations and tradeoffs among conservation actions, but each management decision also involves uncertainty about the benefits of alternative decisions. And of course, the world is not DU's to do with as it pleases. Much of the best waterfowl habitat is privately owned by people with their own dreams and aspirations for the land.
So how does DU make choices about conservation actions? The history of DU's work under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) illustrates the challenges and how science helps guide managers in making choices.