Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Waterfowl management during the early 1900's focused primarily on regulation of harvest and on wetland protection. With the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty with Great Britain for Canada in 1918, federal governments assumed responsibility for this migratory resource. In the United States, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) of the Department of the Interior has that responsibility, and in Canada, its Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS).
The flyway system of management was initiated in 1948, and flyway councils and technical committees were created in 1952. During the past 25 years, the CWS and USFWS have cooperated on many surveys and studies to learn more about North America's waterfowl resource. These efforts have been funded mostly by sportsmen and conservationists through two major federal programs. The Duck Stamp was first required of adult waterfowl hunters in 1934, cost $1.00, and generated $600,000 in revenue the first year. Total revenue from stamp sales now exceeds $250 million, which allowed the acquisition of over 2.5 million acres of habitat nationwide. In 1937, a federal tax on firearms and ammunition was initiated and has since generated more than $1.3 billion, a significant portion of which has been spent on state waterfowl programs.
Currently, the lack of secure nesting cover is the primary reason for the decline of duck populations. Adequate recruitment (the addition of young birds to the population) is the key factor that will determine the future of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting. Along with secure nesting habitat, high-quality wetlands are critical to duckling survival.
During periods of above-average precipitation, many waterfowl species respond favorably to the increased availability of wetlands with increased recruitment. However, the adage that "when the water comes back, the ducks will come back" is no longer true. Important wetland margins and the surrounding uplands have been heavily and negatively affected by intensive agricultural development throughout the breeding range of most ducks, particularly prairie nesters. Because of the impact of man's action, many hen mallards fail to raise a brood of ducklings. Many are killed on the nest either by agricultural operations or by predators that can efficiently search the small areas of nesting cover still available.
While conditions are severe on the breeding grounds, they are no less severe on migration routes and wintering grounds. These two habitat types cover a larger geographic area than the breeding grounds and are being impacted by farming, dams built on river courses, urbanization, pollution and logging.
In general geese, particularly in the Central Flyway, have been increasing in numbers. Realizing that harvest regulations have a significant impact on goose populations, managers have implemented restrictive bag sizes and season dates. Waterfowl hunters have supported these harvest restrictions, recognizing their value in providing goose hunting in the future. The restoration of the giant Canada goose to its former breeding range is a success story exemplifying cooperative effort between cooperative effort between waterfowl management agencies and sportsmen.
In addition, goose nesting habitat has been relatively secure from man's actions, though that security now appears questionable in a number of areas. Exploration for and development of fossil fuel deposits in the breeding range of white-fronted geese is progressing, mostly unnoticed, at a high rate. Without constant vigilance and a willingness to act, goose breeding habitat could soon reach the same critical level as that for ducks.
The future of waterfowl lies heavily and directly on the shoulders of man and his actions. Waterfowl hunters and conservationists need to join with governments in an intensive effort to ensure that this future is bright. The lead poisoning problem can be solved immediately by waterfowl hunters switching to nontoxic (steel) shot. By becoming familiar with how hunting regulations may impact the future of waterfowl populations, conservationists can assist managers in selecting the best approach to harvest management. By adopting hunting practices that encourage the identification of different species and sexes of ducks before they are shot and by keeping crippling losses to a minimum, hunters can contribute to these efforts while in the field. Sportsmen and conservationists can also contribute by supporting agriculural programs and legislation which would benefit waterfowl and by encouraging their elected officials to do the same.
Major land-use ethics need to be modified, and management on currently protected waterfowl areas needs to be intensified. This intensive management will be expensive, as a result, the waterfowl conservationist, and, in particular the waterfowl hunter, can expect to pay a higher price for the privilege of seeing and hunting waterfowl in the future. As long as we continue to focus on our goal and as long as private and public organizations and individuals work together, there is reason for optimism. Success will require cooperation from all sectors of society, but it can be realized. The Central Flyway is committed to that success.