Waterfowl management in North America dates back to the early 20th century. Waterfowl banding efforts in North America at that time revealed that waterfowl follow consistent migratory corridors or flyways when traveling between breeding areas in the north and wintering areas in the south. In 1948, this understanding of bird behavior led to the formation of four Flyways based on these migration corridors: the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyways.
Beginning in the mid-1980s, international interest in conservation of waterfowl and their habitats experienced a resurgence across North America. This interest was driven by declining waterfowl populations, which reached record lows in 1985. Wetlands, which are critical to populations of waterfowl and many other migratory bird species, had experienced significant declines. Estimates placed wetland loss at 53 percent for the United States and at least 29 percent in Canada at that point in time. The loss of habitat and subsequent decline in species populations prompted the formation of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP).
A Plan to Address Waterfowl and Wetland Loss
Signed in 1986 by the Canadian and United States governments and later by Mexico in 1994, NAWMP outlined objectives and strategies to conserve waterfowl and other migratory species through the protection, restoration and enhancement of critical habitats. The boots on the ground to get the work done was then and still is the Migratory Bird Joint Ventures: regional partnerships of government agencies, non-profit organizations, private businesses, tribes, and individuals that focus on collaborative conservation.
NAWMP partners have invested 7.5 billion dollars to protect, restore, and enhance over 22 million acres of habitat. Thanks to these efforts, waterfowl populations have steadily grown from a low of around 25 million breeding ducks in 1985 to 49 million breeding ducks in 2014. It is clear that waterfowl conservation efforts have seen success over the last three decades in terms of increasing waterfowl populations.
However, there is growing recognition that the successful long term conservation of waterfowl and other bird species who rely on wetlands will only happen if there is an engaged community of users and supporters. At the same time it is recognized that the demographics, attitudes, and preferences of these users and supporters are changing dramatically, and are not well known by those in conservation management. To address this, conservation programs must grow and adapt.
Identifying Stakeholder Preferences
NAWMP and its partners are embracing this need to grow and adapt. As a first step USGS will hold a series of 24 workshops at 12 locations across the United States. Each location will have two workshops, one for waterfowl hunters and one for birders. These workshops will help identify the values and desires of hunters’ and birders’ who enjoy and participate in an increasingly diverse set of waterfowl, wetland and other migratory bird related activities.
The information and insight gathered from these workshops will help inform the development of two surveys (one for hunters and one for birders) that will be conducted nationwide in 2016.
Additionally, a third nationwide survey of roughly 1,200 individuals is being developed to understand attitudes among the general public toward wetlands and conservation. Finally, while not formally part of this project, Canada has begun development of a similar stakeholder engagement and survey effort which will further enhance transboundary waterfowl and migratory bird conservation efforts into the future.