The North American Waterfowl Management Plan


- Abridged from "Waterfowl for the Future" Canadian wildlife Service

Our vast flocks of waterfowl have great meaning to all North Americans. The change of seasons would somehow not be the same without geese flying in V-formation to herald the department of summer or the arrival of spring. Many people enjoy watching ducklings in a pond. Others look forward to hunting waterfowl with good companions and well-trained dogs. Even those who seldom see waterfowl like to know they are out there, somewhere, following their ancient migrations from north to south and back again.

But in our modern world, this precious natural heritage needs human help to survive and flourish. Numbers of some of the most popular duck species are significantly lower than they were 10 years ago. Millions of acres of wetlands and other vital habitat for ducks and geese have already been lost. More are being destroyed each year.

In a new, far-reaching document - The North American Waterfowl Management Plan - Canadian and American wildlife biologists have outlined what needs to be done to save North American's waterfowl. On May 14, 1986 Canadian Environment Minister Thomas McMillan, and American Secretary of Interior Donald P. Hodel, signed the North American Waterfowl Management Plan NAWMP) on behalf of Canada and the United States. This historic agreement sets forth a joint course of action to help ensure abundant populations of ducks, geese, and swans.

But putting the plan into effort is another matter. It will require the continued strong commitment, creativity, and hard work of regional and local governments, private groups, businesses, and individual citizens and hunters. This can be the beginning of an historic conservation success story - if everyone who cares about waterfowl pitches in to make it work.

By outlining the continental scope of the task and providing broad guidelines for habitat protection and management actions, the NAWMP

  • sets goals for duck, goose and swan populations;
  • identifies habitat conservation needs in specific regions; and
  • recommends measures for resolving problems of international concern.

It does not change the processes used in Canada and the United States to set waterfowl hunting regulations or to fund waterfowl conservation programs.

Waterfowl Population Goals

Waterfowl migrate between northern nesting grounds and southern wintering grounds each year. In their passing, they generate several billion dollars in direct expenditures by birdwatchers, hunters, naturalists and others. These revenues benefit hotels, restaurants, gas stations, outdoor guides and other sectors of the economy, as well as sales of books and magazines, clothing and recreational vehicles and equipment.

To maintain these aesthetic and economic benefits, we must ensure that waterfowl populations are large enough to continue to provide enjoyment for millions of people. The NAWMP establishes numerical goals for the 32 populations of ducks, geese, and swans regularly shared by Canada and the U.S. The plan calls for a total breeding duck population index of about 62 million, producing an average annual fall flight of about 100 million ducks. It also establishes population goals for individual species such as mallards and black ducks.

Habitat Goals

The most serious threat facing North American waterfowl is habitat loss. Major losses occur each year in prime waterfowl nesting areas of Canada and the U.S. In some areas of Canada as much as 40% of the wetlands - in the U.S. nearly half a million acres a year - have been lost to agriculture and to urban and industrial development.

For instance, intensive agriculture has caused soil erosion, water pollution, siltation and chemical contamination. The draining of saltwater and freshwater wetland, plus other poor soil management practices, have degraded many remaining waterfowl habitat areas.

Habitat loss also threatens areas used by waterfowl for rest-stops during migration and overwintering. Waterfowl congregate more during molting, migration, and wintering than during the nesting season, so habitat loss or impairment or outbreaks of disease in marshes or coastal bays and estuaries can be serious. We have already lost important migration and wintering habitat areas to agriculture, industry, and other land uses and the quality of much of the remaining habitat has suffered.

The NAWMP identifies key waterfowl habitat areas and calls for their conservation and protection.

Ways of Saving Waterfowl Habitat

Canada and the U.S. already have extensive systems of wildlife refuges, waterfowl management areas and migratory bird sanctuaries. These have been acquired by Federal, Provincial, State, or Territorial governments and set aside. Many are managed for waterfowl conservation.

Canada established North America's first waterfowl sanctuary at Lost Mountain lake, Saskatchewan, in 1887. Since then it has established 99 migratory birds sanctuaries embracing over 27 million acres (10.9 million ha). In addition, most provincial governments have wetland conservation agreements with private interests; these also contribute to NAWMP's goals.

Even so, vital waterfowl habitat areas are still being destroyed faster than they can be acquired and preserved. to halt the destruction of waterfowl habitat we need new and more creative programs.

The NAWMP recommends going directly to those who can do the most good for waterfowl- farmers and ranchers on whose land millions of waterfowl nest. To encourage these landowners to manage their lands for waterfowl production, financial incentives may be needed. Better soil, water and wetland conservation efforts can also help improve productivity of both waterfowl and farm crops.

Private organizations will play a vital part in conserving waterfowl habitat. Already, organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Wildlife Habitat Canada have restored millions of acres. Such efforts, as well as joint ventures by governments and private organizations, should be encouraged.

Existing public natural resource lands should be managed to increase their capability to support and produce waterfowl. Planning for public works projects should include measures to prevent or offset habitat destruction or degradation.

Paying for the Plan

Wetlands are important nesting and foraging grounds for other birds and for small mammals, and for invertebrates. They provide spawning areas for many important fish and shellfish, and habitat for unique vegetation. They also serve as storage areas for floodwater, as buffers against storms, erosion, and sedimentation, and as filters for pollutants. Everyone who enjoys fish and wildlife can benefit from the measures outlined in the Plan.

Work has already begun. A NAWMP Committee has been established to monitor and update the Plan, coordinate current work, and review new proposals and joint ventures. Smaller "joint venture" groups are being formed for specific tasks. The first such group will deal with waterfowl habitat improvement on the Canadian prairies. It will monitor the status and health of Arctic Nesting geese, and oversee cooperative efforts to address declining blackduck populations.

Where do you go from here? The answer is really up to everyone who cares about North America's waterfowl:

  • If you farm, ask your agricultural representative or district Lands and Forests office or Canadian Wildlife Service office for information on sound wetland land management practices.
  • Buy Canada's Wildlife Habitat Conservation Stamp.
  • Support habitat conservation efforts by private organizations.
  • Help educate your children and other young people in your community about the issues.
  • Support or organize private-citizen efforts to conserve unprotected wetlands in your area.