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Banding Together for Waterfowl

The Great Lakes Initiative

Conserving key habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife throughout this vast watershed
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  • The Great Lakes Initiative area includes portions of seven states and the province of Ontario.
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By Kristin Schrader

Clear cold water, abundant wetlands, and a deep appreciation for the outdoors are three things that come to mind when you consider the Great Lakes and the people who call this region home. The five Great Lakes hold approximately 20 percent of the world's fresh water and have a coastline exceeding 10,900 miles. Ducks Unlimited's Great Lakes Initiative endeavors to preserve these natural resources and honor the values of this region's residents by providing abundant wetland habitat for breeding, migrating, and wintering waterfowl as well as for a host of other wildlife.

The Great Lakes Initiative area encompasses all of Michigan and portions of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario, Canada. This diverse region boasts a variety of important waterfowl habitats, including prairie potholes, shrub-scrub and forested wetlands, shallow lakes, coastal estuaries, and river systems. More than 30 species of waterfowl depend on Great Lakes habitats at some point in their life cycle. Of particular importance to waterfowl are Saginaw Bay and the lower Great Lakes, which have been designated areas of continental significance by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Great Lakes wetlands provide vital feeding and resting habitat for 3 to 5 million ducks and geese that migrate through this region annually. Studies indicate that scaup and many other waterfowl species acquire important fat reserves for egg production during migration stopovers in this region. Great Lakes wetlands also support significant populations of breeding waterfowl, including mallards, black ducks, wood ducks, and Canada geese.

Sadly, the Great Lakes region has lost more than 60 percent of its original wetlands to urban sprawl and agricultural and industrial development. In addition, invasive species have degraded many remaining habitats, and receding lake levels have become a serious concern in recent years. Habitat loss in the Great Lakes region has inevitably resulted in declining numbers not only of waterfowl but also of waterfowl hunters, potentially threatening a grand tradition and vital support for habitat conservation. 
CROSS-BORDER CONSERVATION The Great Lakes states and neighboring Canadian provinces are closely connected culturally and geographically, and Ducks Unlimited and DU Canada have worked together for decades to conserve the region's waterfowl habitat on both sides of the international border. A key funding source for DU's work throughout the Great Lakes region is the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). This voluntary, nonregulatory program is a bargain for taxpayers, as every federal dollar allocated through NAWCA must be matched with at least one dollar from nonfederal funds. As a result, NAWCA grants are often tripled or quadrupled with contributions from DU and other partners in the United States and Canada.

Another vital source of conservation funding for DU's work in the Great Lakes region comes from the states via a program administered by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). This program's precursor was established by DU in 1965 as a vehicle for states to fund conservation work in Canada. In 2013, 36 states donated $3.2 million to match NAWCA funds allocated for Canadian waterfowl habitat conservation projects. AFWA's goal for state contributions is $10 million, and the organization recommends that all states take steps to reach that goal within the next five years to help maintain NAWCA funding and to work toward habitat conservation goals in Canada as well as in their states.


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