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Texas, DU Mark 20 Years of Waterfowl Conservation
SASKATCHEWAN, Canada — On an early Autumn day in September 2003, the sky was a beautiful clear blue above the red-gold landscape and the ducks were calling on a wetland-splashed patch of rolling prairie in central Canada. It’s a place that illustrates the connections between Canada and Texas, between good habitat and good hunting, one fruit of a success story fueled by hunter dollars that goes back two decades.
Dave Kostersky of Ducks Unlimited Canada stepped out of his truck into a brisk wind that day and looked out to see hundreds of birds, mostly mallards, milling around, loafing in the mid-day, resting up before heading out to feed in nearby fields. Dave is DU’s manager of state grants for Western Canada. Much of the time he’s in an office writing funding proposals and reports, but this day he was looking at 640 beautiful acres DU had just bought with funding support from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and numerous other state partners. In a few months, the birds here and millions more like them would be headed to Texas for the winter.
Last week another DU rep stood in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission hearing room in Austin, talking about 20 years of conservation achievements under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) from 1986–2006.
Signed by the United States and Canada in 1986, the plan recognized that loss of habitat, especially on the breeding grounds, was the most serious threat facing North America’s waterfowl, and that habitat conservation had to extend beyond protected areas to include vast areas of privately owned and managed lands. Mexico joined the plan in 1994, making it a continental effort.
“Some recent estimates say our country is still losing more than 80,000 acres of wetlands per year,” said Ross Melinchuk, director of public policy for DU’s southern regional office. “We’re still losing habitat in Canada and Texas, so we need to continue what we’ve been doing and accelerate it if we can. On the positive side, we’ve accomplished a lot in the 20 years since the waterfowl plan was signed. Texas Parks and Wildlife has been a stalwart partner in this international conservation effort since the get-go.”
Melinchuk told commissioners that since 1985, TPWD has anted up $1.4 million in support of Canadian conservation under the NAWMP. This goes to various efforts, all aimed at putting waterfowl habitat on the landscape, everything from buying land like Kostersky’s 640 acres to securing easements from farmers to building water control structures to create or sustain wetlands.
All of this Texas funding has come from hunters buying waterfowl stamps (now the new migratory game bird stamp, introduced last season). Texas funds are matched with funds from other state and NGO partners, and with North American Wetland Conservation Act grants to help restore and protect the duck landscape.
Based on bands put on ducks by researchers and reported by hunters, biologists know that about 37 percent of the ducks that winter in Texas come from Saskatchewan, more than any other Canadian province. About 19 percent come from Alberta, and others come from Manitoba, the Dakotas and Iowa. Scientists say this shows it makes sense for Texas to spend money on Canadian habitat conservation.
“Almost every Central Flyway state contributes to this program annually because we all realize this is a wise expenditure so our sportsmen can have liberal and enjoyable seasons and bag limits each year,” said Vernon Bevill, TPWD Small Game and Habitat Assessment Program director. “Without the NAWMP put in place over 20 years, we probably wouldn’t be bragging about this. We’ve had several record years of production for waterfowl in Canada. If Mother Nature provides some weather to move some ducks around, we’re looking at a pretty good season in Texas.”
Waterfowl seasons just started in Texas. The first split of the general duck season in the North and South Zones runs Nov. 4–26 and reopens Dec. 9 through Jan. 28. In the Panhandle’s High Plains Mallard Management Unit, duck season is set for Nov. 3 through Jan. 28.
Banding studies show species that breed in Canada in the summer and winter in Texas include mostly mallards, plus significant numbers of blue-winged teal, northern pintails, gadwall, widgeon, and others.
Texas money to conserve northern habitat for these birds is matched and leveraged many times over by other partners. The $100,000 provided by TPWD in 2006 for Saskatchewan conservation was matched with $100,000 from DU and $200,000 in federal funding under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, plus a whopping $1.7 million from other U.S. and Canadian partners, totaling more than $2 million. This means a 2006 Texas dollar spent on Saskatchewan conservation is matched 20 to one by the time it hits the ground.
Here in Texas, DU has provided more than $10 million to conserve 161,330 acres of habitat in partnership with TPWD since the waterfowl plan was created in 1986.
More on the history and importance of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan is on the Web.
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