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Wetland Symposium

Managing Wetlands for Shorebirds


DOUGLAS L. HELMERS

Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network, Wetlands for the Americas, P.O. Box 1770, Manomet, MA 02345

The loss of wetland habitat in the United States and Canada since pre-colonial times has created a need for state, federal, and provincial agencies to protect or intensively manage those which remain. Wetland management has developed rapidly in recent years, and has gone beyond its historic focus of meeting the resource needs of waterfowl. Today, an integrated approach to wetland management should combine the needs of waterfowl and nongame species. Managers and researchers recognize the importance of relationships between species' life history requirements and seasonal habitat use. They also understand the importance of managing wetlands to mimic historical water regimes for maintaining long-term productivity. Furthermore, changing public attitudes about the value of non-consumptive wildlife use and increased awareness of threatened and endangered species has also helped compel agencies to implement new management methods. Currently, public agencies and international programs (such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan) are incorporating multi-species strategies into wetland acquisition, enhancement, and restoration plans.

To accomplish this goal, resource managers must be provided with specific biological requirements for developing these plans. For example, shorebirds, including plovers, sandpipers, avocets and phalaropes, are one of the major groups that use wetlands and associated grasslands in North America during their annual cycles. Many are long-distance migrants, traveling up to 12,000 km from arctic breeding grounds in Canada and Alaska to wintering areas in South and Central America. These long distance migrations are energetically expensive and shorebirds require suitable wetlands to periodically stop and refuel. Staging areas must provide shorebirds with several requirements: shallow water and mudflat habitats with sparse vegetation, an abundance of food, and undisturbed resting areas. During migration stopovers, shorebirds must consume vast quantities of invertebrates to fuel the next leg of journey. The availability of these resources is critical to meet the bird's energetic demands. Disturbance during migration is also energetically expensive. It causes an increase in energy loss from escape activity that must be offset by an increase in foraging time and therefore may increase the length of their stay.

Two major techniques can be identified as potential strategies for shorebird management. First, the protection and preservation of important breeding, migrating, and wintering habitats such as the Prairie Pothole Region. Second, the manipulation of habitats to increase food availability and reduce disturbance at feeding, roosting, and nesting areas. Both techniques provide resources for migratory shorebirds in either coastal or interior wetlands and can easily be incorporated into management strategies. For example, minor changes in the timing, depth, and duration of drawdowns or flooding can provide habitats for migrant shorebirds without affecting the potential to provide habitats for other avian groups. Similarly, the reduction of public access during critical periods will reduce energetic demands caused by disturbance to shorebirds as well as other waterbirds. The successful integration of wetland management strategies to benefit multiple species will be most effective if the chronology, habitat, and life-history requirements of the species groups are known and understood.


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