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volume 31 number 2


A Seat at the Table

the secrets of DUC’s success in federal policy

epic ANNUAL waterfowl survey helps shape duc’s conservation direction

Habitat Minds the scientific methods of duc decision-making

An assist for Conservation

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Every spring, the largest inventory of waterfowl on the planet takes place on the Canadian and U.S. prairies, in the boreal forest and in small pockets of tundra regions in Canada and Alaska. by b a r b a r a r o b i n s o n

mallard: Brian Wolitski

pintail: DU Canada

background: Tye Gregg


About a dozen fixed-wing aircraft, several helicopters, a number of ground vehicles including trucks and all-terrain vehicles, and dozens of biologists and pilots survey an area encompassing over two million square miles of waterfowl breeding habitat. Waterfowl of all species are counted on established sampling units called transects to provide an annual index to population size. Known as the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat (BPOP) Survey, this epic collaboration between the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has taken place every spring since 1955. Begun as a trial in 1947, the BPOP survey is the largest, longest-running and most effective and reliable wildlife survey ever conducted anywhere. Over 80,000 kilometres (55,000 miles) of transects are flown every year across parts of the northern United States – Montana, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Alaska – in prairie Canada, as well as the Canadian boreal forest from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. This level of flying can be likened to counting ducks in a single line twice around the world every year. It is a massive undertaking that provides the foundation for much of Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) conservation planning and program delivery.

So how do two countries come together to count millions of waterfowl every spring? Logistics, logistics, logistics. The surveys require careful co-ordination, planning and execution – and not just once, but every year for the past 61 years.


eginning in April, in the southernmost part of the U.S. survey area where waterfowl typically begin nesting earlier because of climate, USFWS air crews (a pilot and a surveys biologist) fly fixed-wing aircraft slowly at low altitude (45 metres or 50 yards) along predetermined transect lines through known areas of waterfowl habitat. The USFWS crews are responsible for the entire aerial component of the BPOP survey in Western Canada and the United States, and U.S. air crews collaborate with Canadian air crews in Eastern Canada. Survey crews try to adjust the timing of annual survey efforts to coincide with peak breeding activity of mallards so surveys of boreal and tundra regions to the north start progressively later in the spring. The aerial crews count all waterfowl species and the number of wetland basins or “ponds” along the transects. Transects, whether by ground or air, are the basic sample unit for the BPOP survey. The survey aircraft flies the transect centreline from point A to point B with the two-

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right: Darin Langhorst (2)


ike the aerial crews, the ground crews count all waterfowl up to a distance of 200 metres (218 yards) from the transect centreline, but only for a subset of the areas surveyed by plane. The ground survey, known as “ground truthing,” provides a correction factor that is applied to the aerial survey data to provide a more accurate calculation of the total number of birds. Both data sets are essential to

completing an accurate picture of waterfowl numbers and locations. During the ground surveys, the crews also record habitat observations, such as the number of ponds and whether wetlands have been negatively affected. A total of about 30 staff are relied upon every year to complete the Canadian portion of the ground surveys. “CWS has many uses for the data,” says Kathryn M. Dickson, CWS senior waterfowl biologist. “We use it for monitoring waterfowl populations to see how well they are doing. This helps form part of the process for setting hunting regulations. The data are also applied to our management strategies for determining habitat conservation programs and where our habitat management efforts will have the greatest effect.” CWS plays a lead role in the collection and analysis of the survey data. By June the CWS and USFWS databases are combined and the results are posted on the USFWS website, and subsequently on the CWS website, as part of the CWS Regulatory Report Series.

left: Michel Blachas/Carole Piché

Above: Aerial crews attempt to time their annual survey efforts to coincide with peak breeding activity of mallards. Below: BPOP survey transect lines bisect large expanses of the continent, from Alaskan tundra to the North American prairies. Green lines across the north and west indicate transects covered by U.S. Fish & Wildlife crews, while blue lines indicate surveys completed in the east in collaboration with Canadian air crews.

person crew counting all waterfowl observed within 200 metres from either side of the plane.Transect lengths vary depending on the extent of waterfowl habitat in an area. “The survey is especially critical to the USFWS because we formally integrate the results into our annual process for establishing waterfowl hunting regulations. Because the population estimates from the BPOP survey play a specific and well-defined role in our regulatory decisions, many of our stakeholders eagerly await the reporting of survey results which are made available every summer,” says Mark Koneff, USFWS chief of population and habitat assessment. “The importance of this consistent standardized survey ensures that data from year to year are comparable and relevant to our habitat conservation planning and harvest management strategies – it has been essential to our past work and will be all-important to our future work too.” The fixed-wing aircraft can cover a large area quickly, but because of their elevation and speed, aerial crews miss some of the birds along the transect, so CWS crews conduct simultaneous daily ground surveys in the southern Canadian prairies to allow the counts to be adjusted for the missed birds. CWS-led crews include CWS biologists, DUC-funded staff and summer biology students. They follow the same survey transects aligned with roads as their U.S. counterparts. However, the aerial crews can fly a transect in less than 10 minutes whereas it might take the ground crew 12 hours to walk the same transect.


DUC focuses primarily on five species of dabbling ducks for its habitat conservation planning and delivery: mallard, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, gadwall and northern pintail. Equally comfortable on land or water, dabbling ducks feed by dabbling or “tipping” rather than submerging like diving ducks. In North America this group of ducks is made up of 10 common species that typically frequent shallow-water marshes and rivers and live primarily on a vegetarian diet. They are also the most abundant ducks on the Canadian and U.S. prairies – making up 80 per cent of the prairie waterfowl population – and when not on small wetlands, may be seen feeding in croplands. Using the DSS, specialized maps can be created for individual species. In the case of northern pintail, it is believed changes in land use have caused populations to plummet by as much as 70 per cent in the southern Canadian Prairies, so species-specific maps of southern short-grass habitat frequented by the species are developed for targeting pintail programs. DUC is investing millions of dollars to restore and conserve critical pintail habitat based on cumulative data from the BPOP survey. Like CWS and USFWS, DUC has many other applications for the BPOP survey data. This information is incorporated into DUC’s Top: the BPOP survey gives waterfowl Waterfowl Productivity Model, experts access to crucial data required to which uses DSS waterfowl distrigauge populations in remote boreal areas. bution predictions in order to Above: pilots log over 80,000 kilometres estimate the impact of habitat every year to conduct the survey. change on the number of ducklings produced.

he Prairies are one of the most prominent and important areas for waterfowl and wetland habitat conservation in Canada. Two-thirds of the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) is in Canada and provides nesting habitat for approximately 40 per cent of North America’s ducks. This information is known, in large part, because of the BPOP survey results. Dave Howerter is DUC’s national manager for the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research (IWWR). Howerter worked with a multi-disciplinary team to develop the Decision Support System (DSS), a statistical model that relates landscape factors and features to duck abundance. LANDSAT satellite images of the Prairies were used in conjunction with the BPOP survey data to help develop the DSS, which predicts waterfowl breeding densities and distribution across the Prairies. “In Canada, up to 70 per cent of wetlands have disappeared in the settled areas of the country, which unfortunately includes the southern Prairie provinces,” says Howerter.


UC also relies on BPOP survey data for its work in the Western Boreal Forest. “Without the BPOP survey, we may not have had evidence of the importance of the boreal forest to tens of millions of waterfowl annually,” says Howerter. “We use the BPOP survey data as the basis for much of our planning, implementation and evaluation of habitat conservation work on the Canadian Prairies and in the boreal forest.” Karla Guyn, DUC’s director of conservation planning, works closely with Howerter and knows well the value of the BPOP survey. “The data from the joint

lp day. He DUC to ’s skies are o t e t a a Don th Americ rfowl. ate Nor ensure r filled with w e forev morro o t r o f ds wetlan

“The data from the joint CWS and USFWS BPOP survey is vital to DUC because it helps target where we focus our habitat work.” Karla Guyn Director of conservation planning, Ducks Unlimited Canada

“The survey is not only the best tool, it is really the only consistently reliable tool for responsibly monitoring and managing waterfowl populations across the continent.” Dave Howerter IWWR National manager, Ducks Unlimited Canada

that has not skipped a beat in five decades. But it is not just DUC that relies heavily on these data. Other organizations and partnerships, like the Prairie Habitat Joint Venture (PHJV), depend on the BPOP survey as well. For example, without it, PHJV partners would not have known that the prairie population of American wigeon has declined by as much as 60 per cent since the 1970s. The data are crucial for achieving the goals under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, a billion-dollar international partnership among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to conserve waterfowl habitat.


he BPOP survey is a model of the unprecedented long-term international science-based partnership between CWS and USFWS that has made Canadian and U.S. waterfowl and wetland habitat programs world-renowned examples of successful cross-border collaboration. “Basically, if you look at ducks as indicators of ecosystem health, you can determine very quickly that their health reflects the health of the habitat and vice versa. Understanding this connection is important for the well-being of wildlife and human populations,” says Howerter. “Since 1955, very little has changed in the way the surveys are conducted. The survey is not only the best tool, it is really the only consistently reliable tool for responsibly monitoring and managing waterfowl populations across the continent.” DUC commends the historic and ongoing dedication and commitment of CWS and the USFWS. DUC, its NAWMP partners and many others have relied heavily on the BPOP survey data for wisely investing in their own conservation programs. This success is dependent on partnerships and co-operation at all levels – an interdependence that is at the core of habitat conservation. A

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A coast-tocoast effort above right: Tye Gregg

CWS and USFWS BPOP survey is vital to DUC because it helps target where we focus our habitat work. In conjunction with the Waterfowl Productivity Model, it also allows us to determine what kind of conservation work to do and how much is needed. If the survey had never happened, we would have had to make a lot of assumptions. Obviously, where there are more wetlands there are more ducks but DUC would not have known the species composition or the density of ducks. For example, we now know that blue-winged teal are more concentrated in certain parts of the Prairie Pothole Region than in other regions. To be accountable to our donors and funders we need to target work in areas that are most important for waterfowl and the BPOP survey data enables us to do that.” The BPOP survey is one of the many progressive outcomes of the 1916 Migratory Bird Convention (MBC) between Canada and the United States. It formalized the powers of the federal governments to manage hunting to prevent further extinction of birds such as the passenger pigeon in 1914.The MBC and the subsequent MBC Act formalized the co-operative management of shared migratory waterfowl populations on a continental basis for the main purposes of regulating hunting and undertaking conservation programs. “The joint waterfowl surveys are a continuation of the century-old partnership between CWS and USFWS,” says Dickson. “CWS appreciates the contribution of DUC to help complete the on-the-ground surveys and their work to transform the data into science-based models defining priority areas for waterfowl habitat conservation activities.” The forward-thinking BPOP survey partnership is fundamental to waterfowl and wetland conservation programs in Canada. For DUC, the survey data helps direct its habitat conservation activities – a continuum

Spring is a busy time of year all across the country when it comes to counting ducks. Aerial breeding ground surveys are conducted annually in British Columbia’s Intermountain by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) using funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). “This data is used by CWS to monitor waterfowl trends and determine bag limit adjustments,” says Brad Arner, DUC’s manager of conservation programs, B.C. “The USFWS wants the data for the Pacific Flyway in particular for the Western Mallard Model. DUC uses it for waterfowl trends and habitat species models.” In Eastern Canada, the traditional waterfowl surveys were expanded in 1990 to include assessment of waterfowl breeding in the region through surveys conducted by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. This dual platform approach balances issues surrounding the difficulty of detecting ducks in the forested wetlands of the East with the logistical issues of surveying remote areas where many of the waterfowl of interest, such as the American black duck, are breeding. The CWS and USFWS produce an annual estimate of waterfowl populations that integrates results from both surveys. These annual estimates provide the trend information that is used to assess progress towards the waterfowl population goals of the Eastern Habitat Joint Venture (EHJV), a partnership including DUC that delivers habitat conservation actions focused on retention and restoration of wetlands. “The eastern surveys are the yardstick that measures the waterfowl impact of the EHJV’s collective on-the-ground conservation programs,” says Mark Gloutney, DUC’s manager, conservation science and program development, Eastern Region. “We assume that our conservation actions have been successful when we sustain annual waterfowl population estimates at goal levels in three of five years.” According to Gloutney, waterfowl surveys in Eastern Canada have evolved to include surveys of plots in agricultural areas. “This is important because the agricultural landscape is where we expect the largest waterfowl response because of the overall fertility of agricultural areas,” he says. “In addition, it is where we have implemented the bulk of our habitat restoration program.”

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by c y n th i a k a l l i o edwa r d s DUC National Manager of Industry & Government Relations

“Let me just add that Ducks Unlimited deserves tremendous credit for the outstanding work they’ve been doing for decades to conserve and improve waterfowl habitat in this country.This is work that has served as tangible proof to Canadians that hunting and conservation go hand in hand.” – Prime Minister Stephen Harper, at the 81st Annual Meeting and Conference of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH) in March 2009


“Our country does really extraordinary things in terms of the environment in many other areas. Conservation for example.Take the National Parks system that we have. Add the protected spaces we have as bird sanctuaries, as wildlife habitat. Add the provincial parks system we have across the country. Add all the species-at-risk conservation measures that are going on through Ducks Unlimited and the Nature Conservancy of Canada. Our record is second to nobody in the world. It is one of the most incredible systems of conservation anywhere in the world.We need to take pride in this.We need to continue to develop it.” – Environment Minister Jim Prentice, to Diplomat and International Canada magazine, spring 2010 edition

mallard: Brian Wolitski


o how did Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) go from a small group of waterfowlers concerned with declining waterfowl populations in 1938 to a major force in wetland and waterfowl conservation with more than 170,000 supporters and drawing regular reference from Canada’s top politicians seven decades later? There are many reasons. Organizational evolution is one reason for sure. Using the conservation ethics and passion of those very same waterfowlers at our foundation, DUC has become a science-based organization that not even the exemplary vision of our founders could have foretold. One reason for DUC’s credibility gain with national politicians is that DUC expends a lot of effort to ensure they are aware of how DUC can contribute to formulating workable national land-use policies and how DUC can help the government meet its environmental mandate. This is what separates DUC from other organizations.We feel we point out the problems and challenges in our areas of wetland habitat conservation as tactfully as anyone. But, we always provide solutions. “When it comes to our federal policy efforts, DUC understands that only the public can help shape public policy. As the needs of society change, so does emphasis on certain policy areas – including new opportunities,” says Henry Murkin, DUC’s director of conservation programs. “DUC has shifted towards more emphasis on the need for landscape level impacts to achieve waterfowl objectives. These broader landscape impacts are realized through policy – at all government levels. It really is true that with the stroke of a pen conservation can substantially benefit – or it can lose.”

The field of public policy encompasses regulations, legislation, working guidelines, and even the provision of information about them. DUC has always sought input to federal government policy for the benefit of habitat conservation. However, from a federal government perspective, it was only after DUC achieved a larger membership base through the success of volunteer-led community fundraising events beginning in the mid1970s that influence in Ottawa began to gain traction. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), which came to life in 1986 while DUC was being managed by then-executive vice-president Stew Morrison, was the premier example of how DUC working with the federal government and others could succeed in achieving a major policy initiative. Leading up to NAWMP in 1984, Morrison had much influence in seeing Wildlife Habitat Canada (WHC) formed by the federal government to help fund habitat conservation work with the support of Canadian waterfowl hunters. Through the formative years the Canadian Wildlife Service’s Jim Patterson was a key player in the creation and workings of NAWMP, as was DUC’s chief biologist, Sandy McCauley, who was eventually seconded to Ottawa to work with Patterson to develop the NAWMP protocol. After a stint at WHC, Patterson was recruited to DUC in the early 1990s to help get NAWMP delivery off to a strong start. Another influential NAWMP ally in Ottawa was Ken Cox, who also was an early employee of the WHC, and later led Canada’s Wetlands Conservation Council. The success of Patterson, McCauley and Cox proved that a DUC presence in Ottawa was important. By having that interface, DUC was able to work effectively with

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“When it comes to our federal policy efforts, DUC understands that only the public can help shape public policy. As the needs of society change, so does emphasis on certain policy areas –

including new opportunities.”

Natural capital consists of natural resources, environmental and ecosystem resources, and land. It is capital in the sense that these resources are assets that yield goods and services over time – goods and services essential to the sustained health of our environment and the economy. Protection and enhancement of natural capital will improve water quality and decrease water treatment costs, increase recreational opportunities, mitigate flooding, decrease net greenhouse gas emissions, lower dredging costs of waterways, improve air quality, provide habitat, sustain food production and produce many more tangible and intangible benefits to society.


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Guided by science Like all our efforts on conservation, DUC’s work in public policy is guided by sound science. This includes research on the role of wetlands and associated uplands in the provision of goods and services beyond waterfowl habitat. These habitats provide numerous public benefits including carbon sequestration, protection from flood and drought, and water quality benefits. Knowledge of the linkages between habitat and these services is needed so that individuals can make more informed decisions about what is affecting them and what they should talk to their elected officials about. This research linked with economics is also important so that government decision-makers can make more informed budget and policy decisions.


of many organizations working together on areas of common interest. Budget options that are put forward by multiple agencies are much more powerful than those same agencies working in isolation,” says Barry Turner, DUC’s director of government relations in Ottawa and recently re-elected chair of the GBC. One such common interest was the eventual elimination of capital gains tax on donations of ecologically sensitive lands. It took a few years of hard work by DUC and others, but the May 2006 federal budget finally announced the removal of the last of the capital gains tax on Ecogifts. This opened the door to many more donations of land and conservation easements by landowners to organizations like DUC. Staying true to our waterfowling origins, DUC has also been a partner in establishing the Outdoors Caucus Association of Canada (OCAC) announced in February 2009.This association, at arm’s length from government, was struck under the auspices of the Outdoors Caucus,

below: Darin Langhorst


non-government organization partners and governments alike, to achieve policies that benefitted habitat conservation continent-wide. Sadly, Patterson, McCauley and Cox have passed on now. NAWMP is a living legacy to their groundbreaking policy work and a testament to DUC’s understanding that waterfowl conservation needed the help of the federal governments on both sides of the border to be most effective. Building off the NAWMP experience, after a few years of sharing offices with other agencies, DUC officially opened an Ottawa office in 1999. In 2001, the DUC Board of Directors ratified the International Conservation Plan (ICP) that guides DU’s conservation work in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Updated in 2004 and again in 2007, the ICP continues to promote effective policy as critical to meeting the needs of waterfowl continentally. DUC’s first substantial efforts under its new policy direction included development of a concept for the Conservation Cover Incentive Program in 2001. This landscape-based forage conversion proposal was presented by DUC staff to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Senate Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, and to the House of Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.This effort helped shape Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s innovative GreenCover forage conversion program that ran from 2003 to 2008 and helped see the seeding down of more than 540,000 acres of annually cropped land to permanent cover. A big part of being successful in public policy work happens through building partnerships. DUC’s partnership efforts in Ottawa include working through the Green Budget Coalition (GBC), an affiliation of 21 national organizations that work together to develop budget options for government to provide long-term social, environmental and economic benefits for Canadians. “The Green Budget Coalition is an excellent example

right: © Greg Teckles

– Henry Murkin, Director of conservation programs, Ducks Unlimited Canada

a non-partisan assembly of federal Parliamentarians initiated by Garry Breitkreuz, a Conservative MP from Saskatchewan.The OCAC focuses on heritage activities like hunting, sport fishing, trapping and sport shooting. Founding members include Phil Morlock from Shimano Inc., Mike Reader of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and DUC’s Barry Turner. The OCAC board has now expanded to include representatives from 11 organizations and associations across Canada.


olicy work often begins with identifying departments and agencies who share a common need or interest. The first steps in a relationship may include the negotiation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to set out what the groups have in common. Getting to know decision-makers – and them knowing you – is also important and is often done through events like dinners and receptions. To date, DUC has hosted three parliamentary dinners in Ottawa. DUC also organized a reception on Parliament Hill hosted by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Honourable Peter Milliken, in June 2009 during DUC’s Board of Directors meeting. Earlier in the day senior staff and volunteers arranged meetings with their own

MPs and had an opportunity to share points of view on conservation matters of importance. Again, this enabled Parliamentarians and senior government officials to become familiar with DUC and to see first-hand the dedicated individuals who are not only passionate about waterfowl habitat but also about our organization and its success. Besides the examples above, the list of federal government and DUC partnerships and initiatives has grown in recent years and this is something DUC reflects upon proudly. Other notable wetland habitat and conservation successes and achievements that we have shared with the federal government include: major conservation advancements in Canada’s wetland-rich boreal forest; signing of MOUs with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of National Defense; consultation in environmental farm planning – especially having wetland restoration included as a bonafide beneficial management practice (BMP); gaining support for more research into the carbon sequestration capacity of wetlands; the creation of the Atlantic Habitat Partnership Initiative; the realization of funding through the Natural Areas Conservation Program as well as the recently-announced wetland projects rebuild through

Above: A reception held by DUC in Ottawa last summer was hosted by Peter Milliken, Speaker of the House of Commons. The event proved its worth, allowing government decision-makers to become more familiar with DUC’s conservation efforts.

THE NORTH AMERICAN WATERFOWL MANAGEMENT PLAN The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is an international action plan to conserve migratory birds across the continent. The Plan’s goal is to return waterfowl populations to their 1970s

levels by conserving wetland and upland habitat. Canada and the United States signed the Plan in 1986 in reaction to critically low numbers of waterfowl. Mexico joined in 1994, making it a truly conti-

nental effort. The Plan is a partnership of federal, provincial/state and municipal governments, nongovernmental organizations, private companies and many individuals – all working towards achieving better

wetland habitat for the benefit of migratory birds, other wetland-associated species and people. The Plan’s unique combination of biology, landscape conservation and partnerships comprise its exemplary

conservation legacy. Plan projects are international in scope, but implemented at regional levels. These projects contribute to the protection of habitat and wildlife species across the North American landscape.

In fact, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan is considered one of the most successful conservation initiatives in the world.

for the best solutions. Our mission drives which issues we focus on – habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife is our top priority. We cannot be shy about identifying issues that we feel are important to that mission and we always strive to provide options to conserve habitat based on sound science.

left: © Greg Teckles

science p a g e

The busy season by d ave h o we r te r

I the Southern Ontario Development Program. As well, the DUC and federal government partnership has been prominent in the advancement of the ecological goods and services that are provided by our natural capital, particularly through DUC’s Broughton’s Creek research in Manitoba. All are significant habitat conservationbased agreements that provide lasting benefits for ducks. Moving forward, DUC’s new Strategic Plan (2009) has declared the need to succeed in influencing public policy in order to achieve broad scale and lasting conservation benefits for waterfowl and other wildlife, which will also provide many benefits for people.To be succinct, wetland policy is critical to the organization’s success. Our success to date is due in large part to our corporate philosophy of being practical and pragmatic in our approach to policy. It is about the need to recognize other points of view and to then work collaboratively

The Outdoors Caucus Association of Canada The parliamentary Outdoors Caucus continues to make its mark across the Canadian landscape. The all-party caucus has a mandate to help protect the Canadian heritage activities of hunting, fishing, sport shooting and trapping. The Outdoors Caucus Association of Canada (OCAC) has been created as a direct conduit between the outdoors community and Parliament. As the largest federal non-partisan caucus during the last Parliament, the goal is to preserve, promote and protect these heritage activities and encourage everyone to accept them as traditional, environmentally responsible pillars in Canadian culture. The OCAC will be the outdoors constituency’s eyes and ears and help guide policy in a direction that will benefit all who love the outdoors.


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OCAC Board of Directors, Spring 2010

A Phil Morlock, Director, Environmental Affairs, Shimano Canada Ltd. (Whitney, Ontario) A Walter Oster, Chairman & CEO, Canadian National Sportsmen’s Shows (Mississauga, Ontario) A Alain Cossette, Director General, Federation Québecoise des Chasseurs et Pecheurs (Quebec City, Quebec) A Barry Turner, Director of Government Relations, Ducks Unlimited Canada (Ottawa, Ontario) A Kelly Semple, Executive Director, Hunting for Tomorrow Foundation (Edmonton, Alberta)

A Dr. C.I. Goddard, Executive Secretary, Great Lakes Fishery Commission (Ann Arbor, Michigan) A Darrell Crabbe, Executive Director, Saskat chewan Wildlife Federation (Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan) A Rob Cahill, Executive Director, Fur Institute of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario) A Dr. Gary Mauser, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Business Administration, Simon Fraser University (Burnaby, British Columbia) (Editor’s note: Mike Reader, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters was a pivotal force in the creation of the OCAC. Mike retired from the board in March 2010.)


Zugunruhe (pronounced TSOOK-un-roo-uh) is a German term coined by behavioural scientists to describe the restlessness birds demonstrate as changes in day length signal that the time to migrate is near.

right: DU Canada (2)

Above: DUC Chief Executive Officer Jeff Nelson (left), with Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defense. DUC and the ministry signed a memorandum of understanding to protect wetland habitat on DND lands last summer.

n the end, policy is really about people and choices. It’s about identifying an issue of importance and advancing options to improve a situation for the public good. DUC needs the support of our members, volunteers, directors and partners to address issues that are impacting waterfowl habitat. Ultimately, a public that is knowledgeable and engaged will have the influence needed to change public policy. Talk to your MP, your provincial representative, and those who represent you at the municipal level – urge them to take into account wetlands and other habitats during their planning, law making and regulatory processes. The onus to change policy is on all of us – if you have concerns about negative impacts to habitat conservation in your area, say something. Conservation issues will only be considered by governments if they are brought to their attention. If elected officials and public servants don’t hear your opinions and thoughts they can’t act on them. If conservation issues and policies are important to you, please tell your elected official. Similarly if you do like what you see, or your government is making a real effort at improving the condition of habitat, it’s also important to let them know what they are doing is right. Celebrating the wins is important for us to ensure more waterfowl habitat remains intact or restored for the benefit of ducks, other wildlife and people. A

Birds become more active in the evenings, and their sleep patterns change as the days lengthen. At Ducks Unlimited Canada’s (DUC) head office at the Oak Hammock Marsh Conservation Centre, a different kind of zugunruhe begins each February among DUC’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research (IWWR) staff. Crew leaders can be seen poring over stacks of resumés, looking for the key individuals to round out field teams. Piles of gear begin to appear in offices to be carefully sorted, examined and repaired to make sure each piece is ready once field season arrives. As February turns to March, biologists anxiously scan precipitation maps to determine if conditions at study sites will be wet enough to ensure adequate sample sizes of birds and nests. As April arrives, an inordinate amount of time is spent tracking weather systems. Will the weather be warm enough to trigger the first melting of snow and ice? Are they expecting strong south winds upon which the first trickle of birds will arrive? Finally, as the trickle of birds becomes a torrent, a secondary migration begins as research staff burst from their offices to pursue their passion for understanding waterfowl and wetland ecology.

lying DUC’s habitat programs will continue in 2010, but at a reduced level. Dale Wrubleski will be splitting his time between the Summerberry Marshes in northIn 2010, IWWR will western Manitoba and again be supporting a the legendary Delta diverse portfolio of reMarsh at the south end search projects designed of Lake Manitoba. Reto collect information search at the Summerneeded to help guide Top: A new DUC study in 2010 looks into berry marshes, located the effects of landscape conditions on DUC conservation on the Saskatchewan northern pintail duckling survival. Above: programs. Here are just River Delta near The Work at Manitoba’s Delta Marsh includes Pas, Man., will help a few examples of the the establishment of barriers to prevent quantify the effect of types of staff-led field destructive carp from entering the marsh. managing these wetresearch being conduclands both for waterted in 2010: fowl and for furbearer Quantifying the full populations upon which local residents rely. suite of benefits provided to society by At Delta Marsh, Wrubleski, with a team of waterfowl habitats is an important strategy researchers, will be evaluating efforts to for increasing public support for conserrestore the tremendous value this marsh vation. For wetlands, these benefits include once held for migrating ducks. improved water quality, flood abatement These activities include attempts to preand carbon storage. Pascal Badiou and Shane vent exotic carp from entering the marsh Gabor will be leading studies to better understand these values in western Maniwhile allowing more desirable species of toba and will be launching new studies in native fish to pass unhindered. Carp, through eastern Saskatchewan and Ontario. their activities, reduce the abundance of On the Prairies, a new study led by Jim carbohydrate-rich aquatic vegetation upon Devries will investigate the effects of land- which migrating ducks rely. A scape conditions on pintail duckling survival. Northern pintail populations remain far These are just a few examples of the 2010 slate of research projects. For below target levels and research to undermore information, visit stand reasons for this decline is urgently conserve/research needed. Elsewhere, the SpATS study designed to evaluate the key tenets under-

Conservator | 31-2 2010


R Ducks Unlimited Canada prides itself on delivering science-based conservation. But what does this mean? and How do we incorporate science into our everyday business? by dav e how e rt e r National Manager, DUC’s Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research


Conservator | 31-2 2010

eaders of this magazine are familiar with the Science Page, and also may recall several feature articles about past Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) research projects. Rarely, however, have we presented the details about how science is integrated into planning and implementation of DUC’s conservation programs. In this article, I hope to give you an insider’s glimpse into the teamwork needed to provide the science that guides DUC’s business of conserving habitat for waterfowl and other associated species. Science can take on several forms when used to inform DUC conservation programs – but they all share common features. The first step in any research project is identifying the question to be addressed. Here at DUC, this often involves a collaborative effort involving Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research (IWWR) scientists, DUC habitat managers, conservation planners and policy experts.These may be questions of international significance (e.g., what factors are leading to a decline in lesser scaup populations), or they may be more local in scale (e.g., at what frequency do restored grasslands need to be hayed or grazed to ensure they remain healthy and attractive to nesting ducks). In each case, there are several different questions that could be asked and several possible management actions DUC could take. Each

scenario may have different outcomes. Resolving these uncertainties increases our ability to fulfil our mission. Once the question or questions have been identified, it is important to review the existing scientific literature to determine if anyone else has tackled the same question and, if so, what they learned. Fortunately, DUC has an excellent research library managed by IWWR librarian Ian Glass, who specializes in ferreting out previous research, whether from the mainline scientific literature or from more obscure sources. From this review it usually is possible to formulate predictions about factors that might influence the answer to the question. Often, there isn’t a single hypothesis (editor note; Canadian Oxford Dictionary definition of Hypothesis: A proposition made as a basis for reasoning, without assumption of its truth) that emerges from the review, but instead,

several plausible alternatives, each with specific predictions. The challenge then is to evaluate the evidence supporting each hypothesis versus others. To evaluate the various predictions relating to our hypotheses, the scientists must craft experiments. Sometimes these can be highly controlled studies conducted in a laboratory setting, but often questions important to DUC, by necessity, involve observation of natural systems. In all cases it is important to control as many factors as possible to isolate the specific question of

Science can take on several forms when used to inform DUC conservation programs – but they all share common features.

interest. Here, it falls to Llwellyn Armstrong, IWWR’s statistician, to help design studies that allow rigorous examination of the stated hypotheses. Once the study is designed, detailed field protocols are developed so that all data are collected in a consistent manner, and field crews that will follow these protocols are hired and trained. Depending on the complexity of the study, the size of the field crews can range in size from one to as many as 50 seasonal technicians. Data collection has involved technology as simple as field crews using willow switches to move the grass to flush nesting ducks (many ducks nest in grass away from wetlands), to radio transmitters biologists use to follow individual tagged birds throughout the nesting season, learning where they nest and how successfully they raise their ducklings. Other research has also involved cutting-edge water quality and flow probes to monitor impacts of wetland drainage as well as high-resolution sonar used to count fish passage into and out of large coastal marshes.


ot all technology is used in the field. Many of DUC’s conservation programs are designed to conserve landscape features to increase duck production. Naturally then, many of our research questions are focused on learning about how these

Conservator | 31-2 2010


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Jeope Wolfe (3)

spatial changes (e.g., restoring grasslands and wetlands) affect waterfowl populations. Because we need to understand the effect of these spatial changes, IWWR has a small and efficient team, led by Susan Witherly, who are experts in specialized mapping software called Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Using data from satellite imagery and aerial photography, GIS programs allow us to collect, organize, analyze and map changes to the landscape. Susan and her team focus on collecting and extracting the spatial data that help us to make sense of the patterns we see in the biological data collected from the field. For example, we use GIS to answer complicated questions such as “If we restore 1,000 acres of habitat, will more ducks breed successfully if all 1,000 acres are in a single large unit, or is it better to create 100 smaller units of 10 acres each?” After the location of the study sites are determined, we need to plan how we request things such as landowner approval to do our research. The whole question of logistics is often key to big studies – transportation, the effect of weather, permits to band birds, safety in remote areas, training crews, living quarters, etc.There is a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure we support our researchers with as much preparation beforehand as possible. Once all the data and access permissions have been collected in the field, entered into digital databases and subjected to appropriate quality controls, and after all the spatial data have been extracted using GIS, analyses can proceed. This is when we can examine which, if any, of our hypotheses are supported. For this, we again rely on our statistician, Llwellyn Armstrong. Because ecological systems are complex, analyses of ecological data are often complicated too. Rarely do individual research projects yield crisp black-and-white answers, but this is what the field of statistics is all about. If we have carefully followed our study design and field protocols, we can use our data to calculate the probability of support for each hypothesis. Llwellyn, with years of experience with ecological data, can bring the most up-to-date and rigorous analytical methods to bear on these analyses. Following analysis, the patterns that are revealed by the data are compared to the original hypotheses and interpreted before being used to guide DUC’s conservation programs. However, the scientific process doesn’t end there. In addition to informing DUC decisions, scientists have an obligation to share their findings with the broader scientific audience. This is typically done through technical presentations at conferences and meetings, and publication in scientific journals. Before research results can be published, they undergo peer review where other scientists evaluate both the field

and analytical methods and the interpretations of the data. In this way only those studies that meet the highest scientific standards get published.


onservation managers and planners, scientists, GIS specialists, statisticians, seasonal technicians, administrative staff and private landowners, all are essential to DUC’s research efforts. In addition to conducting research, DUC also works collaboratively with many universities and partner organizations to fulfil its science objectives. Since the inception of IWWR in 1991, DUC scientists have been engaged in over 250 separate research projects, collaborating with scientists from 37 universities and 45 external partners, and we have published nearly 500 research articles. All of this leads to better informed and therefore more efficient

and effective conservation programs, not only for DUC but for others involved in similar work around the world. Conservation, by its nature, is a collaborative effort that requires a team of dedicated individuals. While science guides the direction of DUC’s conservation efforts, our momentum comes from the many donors who are the champions of our conservation programs and research. Funding for research comes from many sources including government grants and partnerships with like-minded organizations. Much of the needed support, however, comes through the generous contributions of our individual donors who are, in every sense, critical members of our team. Our fundraising staff and volunteer committees across North America are critical to the success of this process. So, as experience has demonstrated, it’s the teamwork approach – linking science and conservation – which truly sets DUC apart. A

DUC conservation decisions are aided by scientific research both in the field and in the office. Left to right: IWWR statistician Llwellyn Armstrong, librarian Ian Glass and GIS research specialist Susan Witherly all play key roles in shaping the research that guides DUC decision-making.

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Conservator Magazine Volume 31, issue 2  
Conservator Magazine Volume 31, issue 2  

Stories include: Epic annual waterfowl survey helps ahape DUC’s conservation direction A Seat at the Table; The secrets of DUC's success in...