Partners in Conservation
Given the great importance of the western boreal forest and the potential threats land-use changes there pose to waterfowl, Ducks Unlimited has designated this region as a top-tier conservation priority
, a rank shared only with the Prairie Pothole Region. This designation recognizes that for DU to succeed in its mission, key waterfowl habitats in the western boreal forest must be conserved.
Since roughly 90 percent of Canada's western boreal forest is owned by the government, influencing public policy is a major focus of DU's conservation work in this region. "We are taking a leadership role alongside our forward-thinking partners by using existing policy frameworks to obtain large protected areas and by helping to ensure that industrial activities occur in ways that sustain waterfowl," says Eric Butterworth, DU Canada's manager of territorial and boreal operations. "It's a big job that we could not do without partners such as the Pew Charitable Trusts, other environmental nongovernment organizations, various levels of government, industries, and aboriginal communities." The Pew Charitable Trusts is one of DU's strongest partners in the boreal forest, having invested more than $60 million in DU's conservation efforts in this region.
For thousands of years, aboriginal people have lived in the boreal forest, relying on its wetlands, lakes, and rivers for transportation, food, and cultural identity. Their understanding of the need for stewardship aligns well with DU's mission. "Not only do many aboriginal people share values with DU, but in northern jurisdictions they are becoming increasingly empowered and responsible for decisions that will shape the boreal region's future," says Jason Charlwood, acting manager of DU Canada's operations in the Northwest Territories. "The growing interest in northern resources brings opportunities to meet the economic needs of their communities, but development also brings great pressure to preserve the ecosystems that have sustained them for so long. DU is very fortunate to have been invited by many aboriginal groups to help them find this balance. In most cases we have become trusted allies, working toward—and achieving—our shared goals."
Saving the Old Crow Flats One of the most productive areas in the western boreal forest for breeding waterfowl—the Yukon's Old Crow Flats—received permanent protection in 2009. This designation came after a six-year effort advanced with the help of DU. The North Yukon Planning Commission began developing a land-use plan for this area in 2003, as part of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nations' land claim agreement. DU, with financial support and input from the Pew Charitable Trusts, was the only nongovernmental organization invited to participate on the commission's advisory committee. This strategic position allowed DU to strengthen the case for protecting the area, while helping to define its boundaries to benefit waterfowl.
In 2003, DU conducted breeding waterfowl surveys in parts of the Old Crow Flats that are not covered by annual waterfowl surveys. The following year, DU hosted a workshop with First Nations representatives to determine the value of specific wetland systems to waterfowl outside of the breeding season. They identified the Porcupine River as a key migration area for waterfowl, information that DU subsequently corroborated with aerial waterfowl surveys. These surveys also identified the significance of the Whitefish and Bluefish wetland complexes to waterfowl. In the end, this information, along with DU's active participation on the advisory committee, helped shape the North Yukon Land Use Plan, which ultimately conserved 2.64 million acres of pristine boreal wetlands and wildlife habitat.—Jamie Kenyon and Stuart Slattery
Since 1997, DU has developed habitat maps
covering more than 196 million acres of the western boreal forest, pioneering innovative wetland mapping techniques to aid conservation decisions. DU's duck distribution maps
have helped focus conservation work in the areas most important to waterfowl, assisting in the short- or long-term conservation of about 47 million acres of wetlands and associated wildlife habitat. In the process, DU has established a solid reputation as a trusted and balanced advocate for conservation in the Canadian boreal region.