Climate change and habitat loss can swiftly impact strong waterfowl numbers
JUNE 20, 2019. Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) today reaffirmed the findings of The State of Canada’s Birds released by Environment and Climate Change Canada, which reported strong waterfowl populations. But DUC warns of the ongoing and emerging threats that can drastically impact this outlook.
DUC is pleased to see conservation initiatives yielding positive results, but says continued vigilance is required to address ongoing waterfowl vulnerability.
While 32 waterfowl species are increasing in numbers, 38 species are identified as either decreasing in population or are too elusive to be assessed.
The re-emergence of drought conditions, changes in land use, and continued wetland drainage compromise both breeding and survival rates. Ongoing loss of habitat and food supply, in breeding and wintering cycles, will continue to impact the populations of various waterfowl species across Canada.
“We support the statements made in the report that waterfowl populations are doing well. It is a testament to the impact of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and the power of international cooperation in conservation,” said Karla Guyn, CEO, Ducks Unlimited Canada. “But, we stress how quickly environmental and social factors can change this outlook. Ongoing investments in habitat conservation, scientific research, land-use planning, and educational programming are needed to address emerging challenges to ducks and their habitat.”
For more than 80 years, DUC has been a leader in science-based, community-responsive conservation. Delivering wetland conservation across the country, the organization responds to various ecological challenges affecting waterfowl.
The B.C. coast is Canada’s top wintering area for birds. Unfortunately, DUC’s conservation efforts alone cannot keep up to the rate of wetland loss. In the Fraser Valley and on the east coast of Vancouver Island, up to 80 per cent of wetlands have been altered or destroyed. In the Okanagan, close to 85 per cent of the valley-bottom wetlands are gone. Stronger policies that protect wetlands for healthy communities and the wildlife that depend on this critical habitat are vital in B.C.
The loss and degradation of wetlands and grasslands remain a concern Waterfowl habitat is impacted by competitive land uses such as urban expansion, industry and the conversion to agriculture. There is an urgent need to continue protecting existing high-quality habitats while restoring lost wetlands and uplands across all high priority landscapes.
Wetlands are abundant in Canada’s boreal forest and provide important habitat for waterfowl, especially during dry years in the prairie regions. Boreal wetlands are complex, interconnected systems that can be challenging to identify and difficult to understand. It’s also unclear how climate change may affect valuable boreal wetlands, which makes ongoing research and conservation efforts essential. Raising awareness of boreal wetlands among practitioners and decision-makers is fundamental to promote sustainable land-use practices and further conservation.
Approximately 24 per cent of North America’s duck populations breed in the Prairie Pothole Region of southern Saskatchewan. Here, urban populations are booming and agriculture is expanding. As the province’s wetlands are converted to make room, waterfowl habitat is disappearing. In some areas of the province, 90 per cent of wetland habitat is gone.
Manitoba’s Prairie Pothole Region has a long history of wetland destruction. Up to 70 per cent of wetlands have been drained in parts of southern Manitoba. This has been done to increase usable acres for agriculture and urban development.
The major concerns for waterfowl in Ontario are the ongoing destruction of Great Lakes coastal wetlands that support migrating birds and the loss of small inland wetlands that support breeding birds. Wetland policies that reduce the loss of wetlands and support habitat restoration are essential to the future health of waterfowl populations.
Urban sprawl and development are continuing at an unbridled pace. Between 70 to 90 per cent of wetlands have disappeared in urban and agricultural areas of Quebec. The problem is compounded by activities such as forest drainage; road and railway development; and the development of the seaway and the regulation of the St. Lawrence waters.
The common eider remains one of the top priorities for waterfowl managers in the region. Breeding numbers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are in large declines based on recent surveying. Important habitat for eiders, including a major molting site (where ducks regrow their feathers and are rendered flightless) in southwest Nova Scotia, has disappeared. Hen (female waterfowl) survival is also low in Nova Scotia, due to high predator risks from minks, otters, and eagles. A major food source for waterfowl – blue mussels – are also in large decline, which affects the nutritional wellbeing of waterfowl in the area.
National Communications & Marketing