North American duck populations are at record levels. The 1999 fall flight of ducks is predicted to be the largest in more than 25 years, with something like 105 million birds flying south this fall.
Much credit for the dramatic increase in waterfowl goes to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) that was launched over a decade ago in response to severely depressed waterfowl populations in the mid 1980s. The plan is a blueprint for restoring and managing the continent's waterfowl populations and is based on the idea that abundant, quality habitat is the key to healthy wildlife populations over the long term.
"The plan was a recognition that a coordinated approach would be needed to bring back waterfowl" says Dave Graber, a wildlife research biologist with the Conservation Department. Various conservation agencies in the United States, Canada and Mexico, private landowners, corporations and nonprofit conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited all have played important roles in the NAWMP.
Graber credited two federal programs, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Wetland Reserve Plan (WRP) along with the NAWMP for boosting waterfowl populations. "Those conservation provisions, the wet weather and activities within each of the joint ventures have made a huge difference," he says.
Joint ventures are regional partnerships that coordinate planning, implementation and grant awards for key habitat needs in different parts of the country. Between 1986 and 1997, these partnerships channeled more than $1.5 billion into waterfowl habitat, research, monitoring and education.
Missouri is directly involved in the upper Mississippi River/Great Lakes Joint Venture, one of 13 joint ventures in North America. In Mexico, regional partnerships exist in many parts of the nation to accomplish the plan's goals.
The work of NAWMP is not limited to breeding grounds. Graber says the plan also recognizes the importance of wintering and migration habitat, and work is underway to ensure the future of these areas, too.
For example, one conservation program encourages landowners to keep rice fields flooded through the winter and early spring. This gives waterfowl high-protein food and puts them in good shape for spring migration, nesting and egg laying.
NAWMP also is expected to pay dividends when dry weather returns to the prairie pothole region of North America where many waterfowl nest. "Dry cycles are essential because that's what's important for recharging the productivity of those basins. They are also inevitable," Graber says. "But because of these habitat programs like the NAWMP there will continue to be some wet staging areas and some upland cover. We don't expect the birds to decline to the point they did back in 1985 when we had record lows."
The North American Waterfowl Management Plan was updated in 1998. According to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, the 1986 plan "launched a new era in wildlife conservation, setting out a blueprint for developing public-private partnerships to conserve natural resources . . . thousands of partners in our three nations have established a continental conservation legacy, one that is based on sound science and a landscape approach."
The update promises to sustain waterfowl populations into the new millennium and prevent the roller-coaster plight of waterfowl populations seen in the past, even in the face of the continuing global population growth, increased agricultural production and an inevitable return to average or below-average hydrological conditions.
We've been through some lean years but the ducks are back, and it's wonderful to see them. Thanks to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan we may never
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