Evaluating habitat and harvest
The desire to maintain hunting traditions cannot be separated from the need to conserve waterfowl populations and the habitat that supports them. Integrating these three branches of waterfowl conservation—managing populations (harvest), conserving habitat, and maintaining hunting participation—presents a complex challenge to resource agencies and conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited. Today, we cannot afford to work in one area without considering the impact on the others as they all affect waterfowl management.
For decades, habitat conservation has appropriately been the foundation of waterfowl management. Without adequate habitat, ducks and geese will not have the resources they need to support their biological needs, and waterfowl enthusiasts will not have places to hunt, photograph, and observe the birds. Although we count habitat gains as primary measures of our conservation accomplishments, the most relevant outcome is whether waterfowl and waterfowl hunters gain as well. The size and distribution of waterfowl populations are the direct result of the status of wetlands and associated uplands that provide feeding habitat for breeding pairs, cover for nesting birds and their broods, and fuel for their epic migrations.
These same habitat conditions also have a direct impact on waterfowl hunters. Hunting opportunity and harvest depend on the number of birds in the fall flight and the distribution of waterfowl during fall and winter. Harvest pressure also affects the availability of habitat for waterfowl throughout the hunting season. Waterfowl managers have long strived to balance the desire for hunting opportunity with the need to ensure adequate habitat and survival of waterfowl. Refuge, food, and water are the primary components of waterfowl management during the nonbreeding season, and the quantity and quality of each directly affects the birds and hunting.