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Waterfowl of the Boreal Forest

Many of the ducks harvested in the United States are raised in this remote northern region
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Planning for the Future 

While great progress has already been achieved in conserving waterfowl habitat in the boreal forest, DU's work is far from over. First, there are many key uncertainties that must be addressed. Current knowledge of basic waterfowl ecology in the boreal region is at least 50 years behind that of the prairies. In the western boreal forest, waterfowl biologists are only beginning to understand which habitat types are most important to ducks, what the real threats to these habitats are, and how landscape changes affect waterfowl survival and productivity. Research is hindered by this remote region's immense size, challenging terrain, and harsh climate. These realities have made studying boreal wetlands and waterfowl logistically challenging and expensive. 

Fortunately, waterfowl research has advanced considerably in recent decades, and new concepts and techniques developed in other regions can be applied in the boreal forest to help close these knowledge gaps. DU's highest scientific priority in the western boreal forest is to evaluate which landscape changes have the greatest influence on duck abundance and productivity. This research will allow DU and its partners to further increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its conservation work by clearly identifying the types and amounts of landscape change that are negative for ducks. In addition, analyses are under way to improve DU's ability to predict the probability of habitat loss, so future conservation work can be focused on the most important habitats that are at greatest risk. DU's goal is to reduce these fundamental uncertainties in its conservation planning and delivery, and to ensure that it's doing the right things in the right places.

Conservation in the boreal forest is by the nature of its political and socio-economic landscapes a long-term prospect. The policies that create opportunities for conservation on a grand scale also require much time and effort to navigate. Thus far, DU has largely been successful in securing interim protection for boreal habitats. This means that development in these areas has been halted while policymakers investigate the need to grant these areas permanent protection. To meet its conservation objectives in the boreal forest, DU must continue to help advance these evaluation efforts and garner the political will necessary to achieve long-term protection of important habitats for waterfowl. 

DU is also working to encourage sustainable land-use solutions that will help conserve waterfowl habitat outside of protected areas, where the majority of this region's ducks are raised. This will also require long-term planning, starting with clearly understanding the impacts of specific types of land use on duck habitat and ending with revised practices that sustain both ducks and the profitability of industry. 

"If we are to continue making significant conservation progress in the boreal, we need to be persistent, think long term, and garner steadfast support from many sources," Butterworth says. "In other words, we need to keep doing what DU does best."

Great challenges undoubtedly lie ahead for DU and its partners in the boreal forest, but we all share an opportunity to do something unique in North America: conserve a landscape before large portions of it are permanently altered by development. It's the cheapest, smartest—and perhaps only—option for those who care about the region's waterfowl and other wildlife. 


Dr. Stuart Slattery is western boreal leader of conservation science and planning at DU Canada's national headquarters at Oak Hammock Marsh.  
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