by Craig LeSchack, director of conservation programs, and Chad Manlove, manager of conservation planning, Ducks Unlimited Inc.

When you look to the skies in late fall and see waterfowl flying overhead, or when you settle into your favorite marsh, do you ever wonder where all the birds come from? You might be surprised to know the distance they have traveled, and the habitats visited along the way! Good portions of the birds wintering in South Carolina arrive from Ontario, Canada. Since 1965, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) has contributed over $2.1 million to projects on the breeding grounds. For the past 5 years, the SCDNR, Ducks Unlimited Inc. (DUI) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) have nurtured this connection by partnering on habitat projects to secure and restore waterfowl habitat in both the state of South Carolina and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region of Ontario.

The Nature of the Partnership

Banding programs across Canada and the United States have provided waterfowl biologists with an excellent understanding of where ducks and geese breed, forage, migrate, and winter. The paths that waterfowl take between the breeding and wintering grounds, known as migratory routes, are also well documented. For example, recent band recovery data indicates that approximately 25% of the mallards harvested in South Carolina were produced in Ontario. Further, Ontario has extensive amounts of breeding habitat that waterfowl in other parts of the continent, such as the sub-arctic region, use during spring and fall migration.

In South Carolina, a portion of each dollar from the sale of Migratory Waterfowl prints and non-resident hunting licenses is directed toward habitat projects in Ontario. These funds are matched by Ducks Unlimited, Inc. dollars, and then matched again with U.S. federal funds from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. These U.S. matching funds, combined with a 25% match from Canadian partners, results in a total leveraging of at least 4:1 and as much as 11:1 for Ontario habitat efforts. Since 2000, funds from South Carolina for Ontario projects total more than $244,126 resulting in the conservation of 33,108 acres and management assistance on 628,546 acres of waterfowl habitat.

As part of the partnership, Ducks Unlimited Inc. has committed to ensuring that waterfowl habitat in South Carolina is abundant and of high quality. Since 1985, DUI has contributed approximately $3.8 million to protect, restore, and enhance over 103,000 acres in South Carolina.

The Future of the Partnership

Ducks Unlimited and the SCDNR have worked together for nearly four decades on waterfowl habitat projects in Canada. The last 5 years of partnering in Ontario has produced some of the best wetland habitat in the province. Despite the significant effort and tremendous results achieved to date, much remains to be done in the province. Remaining wetlands in southern Ontario continue to be threatened by human activities such as agriculture, urban expansion and recreational development, while waterfowl habitat in northern Ontario is under threat from forest management practices, agricultural expansion and hydroelectric development. The need for a continued effective partnership that focuses on wetland securement and restoration in key Ontario waterfowl breeding landscapes, as well as, habitat conservation efforts for wintering waterfowl in South Carolina is more important than ever.