Bountiful Returns

By funding habitat conservation on Canada's breeding grounds, state wildlife agencies help ensure strong fall flights in the United States

© TWELLSIMAGE.COM

By Jennifer Boudart

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) is widely regarded as a model of international conservation success. One hallmark of NAWMP is its scope; the plan's population and habitat conservation goals encompass Canada, the United States, and Mexico and address the needs of waterfowl throughout their life cycle. NAWMP is also distinguished by the power of its partnerships; the plan brings together diverse stakeholders, from government agencies and conservation organizations to corporations, clubs, and private citizens. Finally, NAWMP is recognized for its effective use of conservation dollars, thanks to the leveraging power of the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and other sources of support.

NAWCA provides US federal funds, in the form of challenge grants, for NAWMP projects across North America. Approximately half the funds appropriated annually must go to support conservation work in Canada (45 percent) and Mexico (5 percent). Additionally, every dollar of NAWCA money granted must be matched by at least one dollar from a nonfederal source. This formula ensures that NAWCA funds are doubled, tripled, or multiplied even further through broad-based partnerships. It also ensures that conservation happens across all areas waterfowl depend on throughout the year.

Photo © DOUGSTEINKE.COM

In the 30 years NAWCA has been in place, grants totaling more than $1.7 billion have leveraged $3.6 billion in matching funds and another $1.4 billion in nonmatching funds from more than 6,200 partners. This funding has supported nearly 3,000 projects, conserving more than 30 million acres of wetlands and associated uplands across North America. 

Ducks Unlimited is uniquely positioned to leverage matching funds for NAWCA grants, thanks to its strong presence in all three nations as well as its broad network of US partners. A great example is DU's partnership with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). In the mid-1960s, a handful of state agency partners began working with DU to fund habitat conservation north of the border. The funds helped conserve and restore breeding habitat for waterfowl that migrated through, and wintered in, those states. Shortly after NAWMP was established, AFWA expanded states' involvement by formalizing the State Contributions to Canada Program in 1991. 

The program, recently renamed the Fall Flights Program, encourages the states to support habitat conservation efforts in Canada and establishes annual funding goals. For its part, DU matches every dollar contributed by state agencies and works with DU Canada to match those dollars with NAWCA and Canadian partner funds. In 2019, a record 43 states contributed $3.39 million to Canadian conservation projects through the Fall Flights Program. With matching funds from DU and NAWCA, these state contributions leveraged more than $16.3 million for conservation.

David Brakhage is director of state and federal partnerships for DU. He coordinates the Fall Flights Program in the United States and says there's good support for it because the states recognize that about 70 percent of North America's waterfowl are produced in Canada. "And DU is very supportive because it fits hand in glove with our conservation mission," Brakhage says. 

DU actively works with AFWA by helping with the program's action plans as well as policies, legislation, and funding initiatives. Different states have different sources of revenue for their contributions; most come from state duck stamp sales and general license fees, but some states also use legislative appropriations. Regardless of how the revenue is sourced, a high degree of accountability exists regarding how contributions are used. 

Photo © Ducks Unlimited Canada

"State revenue is not only being sent out of the state but out of the country, so agency partners are very careful to establish a clear benefit based on sound science," Brakhage explains. Most states use band recovery data to identify the primary source of the birds that are harvested by hunters and enjoyed by wildlife watchers in their state. Then they work with DU Canada to ensure that contributions go to support programs in provinces most important to their state. 

David Kostersky helps coordinate the Fall Flights Program on the Canada side as manager of international partnerships for DU Canada. "State dollars help fund work in large geographic areas to support habitat objectives of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan," Kostersky says. He notes that generally, 70 percent of waterfowl come from the Prairie Pothole Region, which includes Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. As a result, the majority of dollars go to those provinces. 

DU Canada regularly hosts tours for each state so agency partners can see their dollars at work firsthand. Some tours include project dedications that recognize a particular state's contributions. Last fall, a delegation from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) traveled to Saskatchewan to tour a number of planned projects as well as a dedication on Touchwood Hills Conservation Ranch. It was a special opportunity to recognize the 30-year partnership between TWRA and DU Canada. 

"We believe very strongly in the Fall Flights Program," says TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter. Tennessee contributes more than $165,000 annually, primarily through general license sales. Most of that money goes to Saskatchewan, which Carter says is the primary source of many waterfowl species that visit his state, including mallards, northern pintails, gadwalls, and scaup. The region also supports sandhill cranes, thousands of which migrate through Tennessee.

Carter says tours are especially useful for state commissioners to attend. "They're the budget setters. It's really important for them to get to see these big pothole areas and actually see what's happening on the ground. They get to talk with the farmers and the DU Canada personnel, and those things really make a difference to their point of view," he explains. 

Last fall, DU Canada also hosted a tour for wildlife officials from Alabama, which contributes $100,000 annually to the Fall Flights Program. It was the first tour for Chuck Sykes, director of the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. "We went to Ontario because a lot of the latest research is showing that quite a few of our ducks are coming from that part of Canada," Sykes says. "A good portion of our state duck stamp dollars are going to that region to secure long-term conservation agreements with private landowners in those pothole regions and to help improve the wetland habitat up there for the birds that are coming down." Important species produced in Ontario include mallards, American black ducks, pintails, and especially gadwalls. 

Photo © Ducks Unlimited Canada

Sykes wanted to see the work for himself because, as he explains, "It's a lot easier to justify to our Alabama hunters that we're spending quite a large sum of money in Canada when I can say that I have been up there, I have looked at it, and I understand that it is a wise investment. The same goes for when I'm at an advisory board meeting or we get a question from the legislature on the money going out of the country." 

The tour included stops at eight different planned projects and a project dedication on Mallard Marsh. "Some projects measured just an acre or two, but we were able to see how even a small wetland restoration project was resulting in ducks for us down here," Sykes says. And he notes that one dollar contributed by Alabama often translates into 10 or 11 dollars on the ground in Canada thanks to matching funds. "It's a true partnership and a wise use of financial resources."

Kostersky echoes that sentiment: "This relatively small investment in conservation on the breeding grounds, with the leveraging power of that investment, really provides substantial benefits to those species and therefore to those birds as they migrate back to the states."