The Great Lakes watershed has lost 62 percent of its original wetlands, and some parts of this region have lost more than 90 percent of these habitats. Such extensive losses have created a highly fragmented landscape. Unfortunately, the most critical challenge for Great Lakes waterfowl is the continued destruction and degradation of habitat, including the coastal and inland wetlands and river corridors the birds depend on. Habitat loss in the region results from a combination of urban expansion and changing agricultural practices. Despite laws and regulations intended to protect wetlands, the Great Lakes watershed continues to experience losses of small, seasonally flooded wetlands, which are critically important for waterfowl.
Because of the varied challenges, multiple uses, and human influences in the watershed, DU’s conservation programs focus on sustaining migrating, wintering, and breeding waterfowl through direct habitat programs, science, and policy actions. For example, recent research in Canada and the United States directed DU to focus on wetland restoration for mallards breeding in the Great Lakes region, rather than nesting habitat, which is less of a concern than on the prairies. Additionally, DU is undertaking a landscape-level study of spring migrants to determine the resource needs of a variety of species in order to define future habitat initiatives.
DU’s public policy work has the potential to affect the broad landscape of the Great Lakes, including improving wetland protection laws and securing funding for local restoration efforts. The recently reauthorized Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Restoration Act (GLFWRA) doubled funding for fish and wildlife restoration grants from $8 million to $16 million.
“Ducks Unlimited played a pivotal role in securing reauthorization of GLFWRA,” said Robyn Thorson, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes/Big Rivers region. “DU’s expertise and partnerships on Capitol Hill, DU’s testimony to Congress, and the voices of DU’s membership in the Midwest reinforced the need to expand the act. We are all indebted to DU’s great work on this issue.”