By Scott C. Yaich, Ph.D.
Ducks Unlimited stands alone among conservation organizations in its mission to provide habitat for waterfowl throughout their continental range. When the best science available in 1937 indicated that most waterfowl were produced in Canada and that conserving waterfowl breeding habitat there was the most urgent need, Ducks Unlimited's founders made a commitment to focus their work in Canada. A year later, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) began putting conservation projects on the ground using revenue raised by DU Inc. in the United States.
Waterfowl science grew dramatically over the following decades, and conservationists began to recognize the importance of Mexico's wetlands to many waterfowl species. Winter surveys have recorded almost all of North America's common ducks and geese in Mexico. Some habitats, however, are vital for certain species. For example, 80 percent of all redheads winter along the Gulf Coast, and of those birds, the majority depend on Mexico's portion of the Laguna Madre for wintering habitat. About 85 percent of North America's Pacific brant, which breed along the northern fringe of this continent, winter in shallow bays along the coast of the Baja Peninsula, where they feed on an abundance of eelgrass. Almost all of this continent's blue-winged and cinnamon teal migrate through Mexico, and high proportions of other popular game species such as northern pintails and white-fronted geese also migrate into Mexico each winter.
As DUMAC Chairman of the Board John Tomke recently said, "Mexico's wetlands provide crucial wintering habitat for several species of waterfowl, and mangrove marshes are one of the world's most threatened ecosystems. That's why DUMAC's work is so very important."
Escape to Mexico for DUMAC's 40th Anniversary Celebration Ducks Unlimited supporters from across North America are invited to a special 40th Anniversary celebration on February 6−9, 2014, at the Occidental Grand Xcaret in Quintana Roo just south of Cancun. Festivities will begin with a reception on Thursday evening and culminate in a special anniversary banquet Saturday evening. The 40th anniversary celebration banquet will kick off DUMAC's role in our next continental conservation campaign. Funds raised at the banquet will be leveraged many times to expand DUMAC's efforts to conserve threatened mangrove wetlands and provide professional training and environmental education to further wetlands and waterfowl conservation throughout Mexico and beyond. Participants will have the opportunity to attend DUMAC's winter board meeting, fish the flats for a variety of saltwater species (all equipment provided), visit spectacular Mayan ruins in the vicinity, hear a special presentation about DUMAC's conservation work throughout Mexico, and just relax and enjoy the tropical sunshine for a few days. For more information, contact Dana Barton by phone at 901-758-3858 or by email at email@example.com.
The Birth of Ducks Unlimited de Mexico
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, in response to pollution and the loss of natural resources, an awakening of environmentalism and conservation was sweeping across the United States. At the same time, with new waterfowl science in hand and a growing awareness of the rapid loss and degradation of some of the most important waterfowl habitats in Mexico, some of DU's leaders expressed concern about what was occurring south of the border. But addressing habitat loss in Mexico was a significant challenge at that time. Mexico was a developing country, with large segments of its population focused on subsistence and economic survival. Conservation was a foreign concept to many citizens; a luxury to many others.
In 1969, DU's leaders collaborated with a group of sportsmen from Mexico City to lay the groundwork for the formation of an organization called Ducks Unlimited de Mexico, or DUMAC. In 1974, after several years of planning, DUMAC moved to Monterrey and was formally incorporated. DUMAC held its first board meeting that July, and thus became the final affiliate of the three DU organizations that now span North America.
DUMAC's Mexican board and staff brought a familiarity with their society and culture that helped them understand how best to tackle waterfowl and wetland conservation needs in their country. They knew that to be successful, they would need to work hand in hand with people in local communities, or ejidos, and help them see for themselves how conservation could benefit their day-to-day struggle to make a living.
Although the hunting community in Mexico has always been small, DUMAC created an awareness among the nation's sportsmen by including an insert in every box of Remington shotgun shells sold there. The insert carried a message about DUMAC's habitat conservation mission under the heading, "Building a Future."
In January 1975 DUMAC held its first fundraiser, in Mexico City. More than 510 people attended the event, including DU Inc. President Herman Taylor; Executive Vice President Dale Whitesell; DU leaders from chapters in Houston and San Antonio as well as La Jolla, California; artists David Maass and Guy Coheleach; and a host of dignitaries from the Mexican government. That banquet netted over $32,000 ($160,000 in 2013 dollars). In its first year, DUMAC signed up 1,703 members and raised $188,673 in revenue.
From its earliest days, one of DUMAC's greatest strengths has been its ability to raise revenue from diverse sources. Effectively leveraging these resources is another. DU Inc. contributed $25,000 in that first year to help build the continent-wide family of organizations, with the remainder coming from DUMAC members, major donors, and other sources. In 2013, about $250,000 from DU Inc. and major donors in the United States and Canada was leveraged approximately 10 times to achieve an annual operating budget of $2.6 million.
"In DUMAC, it's all about converting relatively few dollars into a disproportionate impact on waterfowl and other birds," Tomke said. "That's what Ducks Unlimited de Mexico has been doing for 40 years."
DUMAC Takes Wing
DUMAC's first conservation project was the Lerma Project. The Lerma Marshes encompassed about 15,000 acres in a low-lying area along the Lerma River. The local people earned additional money by leasing blinds for waterfowl hunting in the area, which was rich in wintering pintails; blue-winged, green-winged, and cinnamon teal; and many other waterfowl. Unfortunately, the marshes were being lost and degraded due to habitat conversion and industrial and domestic pollution.
DUMAC's politically astute leaders also recognized that its strategic location halfway between the large urban centers of Mexico City and Toluca (the capital of the state of Mexico) would help elevate the profile of this fledgling conservation organization and what it was doing to conserve Mexico's natural resources and benefit its citizens' economic well-being. Despite the project's challenges and complexity, the 9,600-acre Lerma Project was launched in April 1976.
Since then, DUMAC has compiled an impressive portfolio of conservation achievements. Through the completion of over 250 projects, DUMAC has contributed to the conservation of more than 1.9 million acres across Mexico—an impressive achievement by any standard. Furthermore, DUMAC accomplishes all of this with a very lean but highly effective organization of fewer than 20 staff members.
"CEO Eduardo Carrera and his staff are truly amazing when it comes to delivering habitat," said DUMAC President Rogers Hoyt. "They manage to take a relatively small budget and turn it into huge gains for waterfowl."
Mexican Wetland Facts
- Mexico contains over 16.5 million acres of wetlands, or about .6 percent of the world's total.
- Mexico contains 1.86 million acres of mangrove wetlands, more than any other North or Central American nation.
- Mexico's Pacific coast typically winters about 38 percent of the nation's waterfowl. The Gulf coast supports another 35 percent and the Central Highlands region hosts 11 percent.
- Most of the continental population of redheads winters on Mexico's Laguna Madre, where the birds feed largely on shoal grass.
Conservation in Mexico
DUMAC's conservation programs in Mexico are based on the same three pillars of conservation used by DU Inc. and DUC: a foundation built on science; delivery of on-the-ground conservation projects; and a commitment to public policy efforts needed to address conservation challenges that far exceed what DU can conserve through habitat delivery alone.
In order to leave a conservation footprint well beyond what its modest operating budget would allow through direct habitat conservation work, one of DUMAC's most important activities has been to generate the science that is required to focus limited resources on the places most vital to waterfowl. For example, since 1991, DUMAC has led and conducted an effort to inventory the wetlands in all of Mexico. To date, DUMAC has identified more than 16.5 million acres of wetlands, following an inventory of over 143 million acres of land in total. No other organization in Mexico has had the capability to conduct such a survey.
Another example of DUMAC's science-based leadership and influence has been its efforts in mangrove conservation. In a major study of Pacific coastal states, DUMAC's scientists documented the rapid and ongoing loss of mangrove wetlands due to unsustainable shrimp farming practices. Using satellite imagery and maps, DUMAC was able to show policymakers that the explosive growth of shrimp farms in Sinaloa and Sonora had caused the death of almost 74,000 acres of mangroves in a relatively few years. This data has been used to work with Mexico's state and federal governments to influence policy to ensure that shrimp farming is conducted in a more sustainable manner that conserves mangrove wetlands. DUMAC's research has also helped focus mangrove restoration projects in areas that can be most effectively restored (such as the 15,000-acre Isla Arena mangrove restoration project), and that can also serve as demonstration projects for other organizations. As a result, DUMAC recently received a national award from CONAFOR (Comisión National Forestal), Mexico's federal forestry agency, for its mangrove restoration efforts.
In addition to science, direct habitat delivery, and public policy, DUMAC has also devoted considerable effort to environmental education and professional development. Through its internationally recognized RESERVA training course, DUMAC has provided advanced natural resource conservation training to more than 420 professional managers working in Mexico as well as 22 other Latin American countries and one African nation. These professionals have all had management responsibilities on natural protected areas, so they were able to immediately put their training to work to make better resource management decisions in their home countries. Numerous wetland and waterfowl courses, mangrove workshops, and other training opportunities are also helping to expand DUMAC's conservation footprint.
As DUMAC's staff and volunteer leaders look to the future, they will continue to focus on raising funds from members, donors, and essential public policy programs such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act to support DUMAC's most important conservation programs. The board recently made a strategic decision to concentrate on two key areas: mangrove conservation and environmental education and professional training, both of which are dependent on effective public policy work.
"Our work with public policy and human dimensions has helped the government and citizens of Mexico better understand the importance of wetland habitats," Hoyt said. "DUMAC's conservation work over the past 40 years has positioned us as the premier source of waterfowl habitat work that not only benefits Mexico, but also all of Latin and North America."
Over its first 40 years, DUMAC's small size has belied its accomplishments and influence. With four decades of success to build on and the staunch support and dedication of its members, volunteers, and staff, the prospects for DUMAC's next 40 years look even brighter. To help support DU's conservation work in Mexico as well as in the United States and Canada, visit the DU website at ducks.org/tripleplay
Dr. Scott Yaich is national director of conservation planning and policy at DU headquarters in Memphis.
A Personal Message from Eduardo Carrera, DUMAC National Executive Director and CEO
Forty years pass by before we know it. But it's on occasions like anniversaries, when one pauses to take stock, that we realize how much progress has actually been made. That has been the case for Ducks Unlimited de Mexico, or DUMAC, as we enter our 40th year.
As the CEO of the Mexican affiliate of the three Ducks Unlimited organizations, I am proud to look back and see how much we have grown and the progress we have made. It's rewarding to realize how widely recognized and appreciated DUMAC's conservation work has become. Although we work in a different culture, with challenges and needs very different from those in the United States and Canada, DUMAC nevertheless is closely tied to Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada by our unified conservation mission.
I remember the pride I felt on my first day of work at DUMAC over 30 years ago, when my boss said, "Welcome to the best wetlands and waterfowl conservation organization in all of Latin America." And DUMAC was only 10 years old then! Now, with 40 years behind us, DUMAC has overcome some big challenges to reach some groundbreaking conservation milestones.
Mexico is a developing country, where conservation is often viewed as a luxury, and the landscape is changing rapidly. In this environment, DUMAC's small size can be an advantage, allowing us to be nimble and to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. For example, in addition to habitat conservation projects, we have strategically focused on providing science to inform and influence important public policy decisions. And through training and education of natural resource professionals, we have extended our reach beyond Mexico and into all of Latin America in ways that will affect natural resource conservation well into the future.
We have walked this path for 40 years, but we have not walked it alone. It is you, the committed volunteers and members of DU, who have made our conservation journey a success, in spite of national borders and distances. To all of DUMAC's supporters, I offer our most sincere appreciation of your support and confidence. The last 40 years would not have been possible without your enthusiastic support, nor will the next. So let me just say muchas gracias to everyone!