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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Wildlife Habitat Management on the
Northern Prairie Landscape

Managing Through Partnerships


Critically important these days is the recognition that wildlife agencies cannot go it alone. They need the help of others who share, at least in part, common aspirations and values. Fortunately, there are many who share an interest in a healthy environment and abundant wildlife. These constitute prospective partners, and many of the effective management actions today are the results of partnerships. We cite an example, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and its joint ventures, which involve federal agencies in three nations, numerous state and provincial agencies, and many non-governmental organizations.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Because they range widely, often through several nations, waterfowl present special problems for habitat management. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is a strategy to restore breeding populations of waterfowl and to reverse the continuing decline in the amount and quality of waterfowl habitat in North America. It represents an example of a cooperative effort to accomplish mutual objectives. In 1986 the plan was signed by the Minister of Environment for Canada and by the Secretary of the Interior for the United States. Mexico signed later. The plan document (US Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service, 1986) has stated goals for ducks, geese, swans, and their habitats in terms of breeding populations and land area. Thirty-four waterfowl habitat areas of major concern were identified. Five of these were priority areas, the largest being the Prairie Pothole Region.

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is extensive not only in the area to which it applies but also in the resources required to meet its objectives. Obviously a new method of obtaining funding was required to finance and accomplish the work. Joint ventures were adopted as the mechanism for funding and implementing the plan. A joint venture is a group of partners with common interests and objectives who are willing to contribute resources to meet those objectives. To date, joint ventures have been successful in raising funds. New joint ventures have been formed and the area of the plan has been expanded.

Although the NAWMP had specific objectives, partners in several joint ventures have incorporated into their plans additional objectives that were beyond the original plan. This expansion was done in part to increase the number of potential partners, by providing objectives that satisfy those without strong concerns for waterfowl. Broadening objectives may be appropriate, but too many goals could dilute the original effort. It also makes it difficult to assess how well NAWMP is working, if progress toward the original goals is offset by the expansion of new ones.

Example: The Prairie Pothole Joint Venture

The US Prairie Pothole Joint Venture (PPJV) illustrates the technique of using partnerships or joint ventures to meet management objectives. The NAWMP set continental objectives for waterfowl habitat management and outlined broad guidelines. Joint ventures like the PPJV should have objectives that contribute to the continental objectives of the NAWMP. In addition, joint ventures are responsible for implementing the plan. The joint venture plans are more detailed than the continental plan and their implementation documents describe strategies for accomplishing the objectives. The implementation plan was developed by a steering committee that included representatives from US Fish and Wildlife Service's Regions 3 and 6; the states of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota; the Wildlife Trust; Ducks Unlimited; the National Wildlife Federation; Nature Conservancy; and the Wildlife Management Institute.

The objective of the PPJV is to maintain in years of average environmental conditions an average breeding population of 6.8 million ducks (including 1.2 million mallards and 1.1 million northern pintails (Anas acuta)) and 13.6 million ducks in the fall flight by the year 2000. This objective, like those of the NAWMP, is based on average duck populations during 1970-1979. It is translated into recruitment rates required to attain the objective. Detailed strategies that include habitat management on all classes of land ownership, habitat acquisition in fee and easement, and direct management of duck populations, were designed to meet these objectives. The implementation plan also includes strategies for communication, education, funding, legislation, and regulation.

Formulating plans and strategies does not guarantee that objectives will be met, of course. Like other joint ventures, the PPJV also developed evaluation plans that outline surveys and studies to measure progress towards the objectives and to identify needed modifications to the strategies.

The implementation plan does not address the question of where management activities should be carried out. This problem is being addressed through planning tools developed in US Fish and Wildlife Service's Regions 3 and 6. These tools are intended to assemble relevant data and obtain mapped information on the location and extent of habitat, convert this information to digital form that can be used in a GIS, and employ various models to determine where management should occur (P.M. Arnold and R.E. Reynolds, US Fish and Wildlife Service, personal communication, 1991). Although some work is in progress, it is hampered by lack of data suitable for use in a GIS, as discussed earlier. The PPJV took its lead in using a landscape approach to habitat management from its sister joint venture in Canada, the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture (Nelson and Wishart, 1988). There has been free exchange of ideas and methodology between these two joint ventures. This cooperation is essential because the two joint ventures are in the same ecological region.

In the past, wildlife habitat management has been fragmented. State and federal agencies as well as private organizations have set management objectives for lands under their jurisdiction. Private lands were often not considered in the planning process. The PPJV implementation plan poses five challenges, which demonstrate that joint ventures are intended to create an integrated approach to accomplishing the following objectives.

  1. How can a spirit of cooperation and, most importantly, trust be built among partners in the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture?
  2. How can traditional waterfowl management philosophy be changed from habitat management strictly on public land to management on both public and private land?
  3. Where can funds be obtained for non-traditional approaches of paying landowners to conserve wildlife?
  4. How can trust be built between landowners and wildlife agencies?
  5. How can public attitudes regarding wildlife management be changed and a balance found with agricultural economics?

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