Opportunities and challenges to waterfowl habitat conservation on private land

William L. Hohman, Eric B. Lindstrom, Benjamin S. Rashford, James H. Devries


The future of North American waterfowl populations is inseparably tied to
management of private land in the United States (U.S.) and Canada. Private land ownership in major waterfowl habitat regions such as the Northern Great Plains, Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley, Gulf Coast and California’s Central Valley generally exceeds 90%, with agriculture being the dominant land-use in these regions. Planning and implementing avian conservation on private land in a strategic manner is complicated by a wide array of social, economic, political, administrative and scientific-technical issues. Prominent among these challenges are changing economic drivers influencing land-use decisions, integration of bird conservation objectives at various scales, reconciling differences in wildlife habitat objectives between bird conservationists and land-users, administrative impediments to conservation planning and implementation, technology and scientific information gaps, and inadequate personnel capacity and financial constraints to effectively plan and deliver conservation. Given these unprecedented challenges to waterfowl habitat conservation, the need for effective public-private partnerships and collaboration has never been greater. With the goal of advancing collaborative waterfowl conservation on private land, the broad goals of this paper are to: (1) increase stakeholder awareness of opportunities and challenges to waterfowl habitat conservation on private land, and (2) showcase examples of collaborative efforts that have successfully addressed these challenges. To accomplish these goals this paper is organised into three sections: (1) importance of agricultural policy to private land conservation, (2) habitat potential on agricultural working land, and (3) strategic approaches to waterfowl habitat conservation. U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programmes authorised through the Conservation Title of the 1985 Food Security Act (hereafter, Farm Bill) and subsequent farm bills have provided unequalled potential for waterfowl habitat conservation on private land. Passage of the 2014 Farm Bill provides unique opportunities and alternative approaches to promote working land conservation strategies that are economically profitable and wildlifefriendly. However, reductions in private land conservation funding will require more effective targeting to maximise resource benefits. For example, in addition to conserving and restoring traditional habitats, we must work collaboratively to identify and promote working agricultural systems that are waterfowl-friendly and provide environmental services in addition to the production of food and fibre. Cultivation of rice Oryza sativa and winter cereals described below potentially represent two such situations. For over a quarter of a century the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) has served as a transformative model of partnershipbased, landscape-scale conservation (DOI & EC 1986). Whereas the original plan and subsequent updates established abundant waterfowl populations as the plan’s ultimate goal, the 2012 NAWMP revision seeks a formal integration of these objectives with societal needs and desires (DOI et al. 2012). The current plan recognises the critical importance of private working land; however, details are lacking, especially with respect to strategic targeting of conservation on private land. For example, the development of truly strategic plans to target waterfowl conservation on private land will require estimates of the benefits of various conservation alternatives, conservation costs, and the threat of habitat loss or conversion. We suggest development of spatially explicit models that inform landowners and managers at the field-level about the cost effectiveness of conservation and land-use options is critically needed.

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