NAWMP was signed in May 1986 by the Secretary of the Interior for the United States and the Minister of the Environment for Canada. The plan recognized the continuing loss of habitat and declines in waterfowl populations and that a unified continental effort was required to restore this valuable resource to population levels that existed in the 1970's. In 1994, the NAWMP was updated and the Secretario de Desarrallo Social Mexico joined the United States and Canada as a signatory. NAWMP is a broad policy framework that describes the scope and goals, identifies problems facing our waterfowl populations, and sets general guidelines for addressing the problems.

It is a partnership effort based on the joint venture concept, including private, state/provincial, and federal interests. Plan-related activities within the joint ventures include site-specific projects, general habitat enhancement efforts, and research and survey activities.

There are 15 habitat joint ventures in the United States and four in Canada. One of the habitat joint ventures has international status between Canada and the U.S., and partners from Canada and the United States also support three species joint ventures.

In the 1998 update of NAWMP, the Plan goals were adjusted to protect, restore, and enhance approximately 27.4 million acres. The updated Plan builds on the vision of the 1986 Plan and 1994 update by forming the basis for actions that will improve the status of North America's waterfowl, promote sustainable landscapes, and broaden partnerships on international, national, regional, and local levels. As of 2003, partnerships have invested more than $2 billion for waterfowl habitat and conservation needs by conserving more than 9 million acres.

Since the information, challenges, and opportunities for conservation continue to evolve, a NAWMP Update is currently in progress. The next Update will establish a new 15-year horizon for waterfowl conservation in North America by defining the priorities and strategic direction needed to guide waterfowl conservation in the 21st century.