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North American Partnerships Save Migratory Birds, Their Habitats

26 March 2012
Snow geese in the air and on the ground (AP Images)

Joint ventures seek to protect migratory birds such as the snow geese shown here in Montana.

Washington — Members of Congress, officials from U.S federal and state agencies and nongovernment organizations joined partners from across North America on March 21 to celebrate 25 years of innovative partnerships for bird and habitat conservation known as Migratory Bird Joint Ventures.

These joint ventures were designed to stem the dramatic loss of waterfowl. By 1985, waterfowl populations had plunged to record lows, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Historical data, USFWS said, indicated that since the first settlers arrived, 53 percent of the original 221 million wetland acres (89.4 million hectares) found in the contiguous United States had been destroyed. The habitat that waterfowl depend on for survival was disappearing at a rate of 60 acres (24.2 hectares) per hour. The picture was the same across Canada, where wetland losses were estimated to be 29 percent to 71 percent since settlement.

Recognizing the importance of waterfowl and wetlands to North Americans and the need for international cooperation to help in the recovery of a shared resource, the U.S. and Canadian governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration and enhancement. The strategy was documented in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan signed in 1986 by the Canadian minister of the environment and the U.S. secretary of the interior. With its update in 1994, Mexico became a signatory to the plan.

Since the plan was signed in 1986, joint ventures have emerged as the international model for partnership-driven conservation. Joint ventures bring together private landowners, hunters, birdwatchers, tribes, nonprofit organizations, universities, government agencies and industry to cooperate in the planning and implementation of projects to conserve and enhance bird habitat.

Starting with just three joint ventures in 1987, more than two dozen now cover the North American landscape from the far northwestern boreal forest of Canada to the Florida Keys and into Mexico. Guided by the bird conservation initiatives, joint ventures have been expanded to include not only waterfowl, but landbirds, shorebirds, waterbirds and game birds, while adapting in other ways to address emerging challenges. Partners' conservation projects not only advance waterfowl conservation, but make substantial contributions toward the conservation of all wetland-associated species. Three species joint ventures have also been formed to address monitoring and research needs of specific species or species groups. The species joint ventures are also international in scope.

On the 25th anniversary of the joint ventures, USFWS said partners have conserved nearly 16 million acres (6.47 million hectares) of critical wildlife habitat.

“For 25 years, migratory bird Joint Ventures have worked to protect and restore landscapes that support healthy bird populations, sustain livelihoods, and provide nature’s benefits to people and wildlife,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “We share a vision of a landscape where native birds thrive, and we believe that our well-being depends on healthy lands, waters, and wildlife. By bringing together diverse partners, Joint Ventures protect the landscapes that birds, and people, rely upon.”

Effective, collaborative conservation for birds is needed now more than ever, USFWS said. More than 30 percent of bird species in the United States are federally listed as endangered, threatened or of conservation concern. Their greatest threat, USFWS said, is habitat loss on breeding areas, overwintering grounds and migration sites throughout North America and beyond.

“The work of the Joint Ventures is critical to protecting and restoring North American bird populations and habitats. These science-driven partnerships have greatly improved our ability to deliver conservation at a continental scale,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

At a Capitol Hill reception March 21, the joint ventures program presented awards to several key partners, recognizing their efforts as “Conservation Champions” who have supported collaborative conservation efforts over the past two and a half decades. A listing of the award recipients is available of the USFWS website.