Flyway Priorities

There are many issues facing migratory game bird managers including loss of habitat, disease, subsistence and regular season harvest, providing hunting opportunity, bird distribution and gaining an improved understanding of these things and their relationships. While the Central Flyway is demonstrably committed to addressing these issues through planning and management and political action, they have identified the conservation and protection of habitats as a management priority.

The Goal of the CFC as stated in management plans (see below) is: "Maximum recreational opportunity consistent the welfare of population, international treaties, habitat constraints and the interests of all Central Flyway provinces and states." In accord with that goal, the CFC believes that adequate recruitment (the addition of young birds to the population) and the factors that affect it will determine the future of migratory birds and the hunting associated them. It believes that secure nesting habitat is the primary factor affecting waterfowl and other migratory birds. Along with secure nesting habitat, high-quality wetlands are critical to the survival of young produced.

During periods of above-average precipitation, many waterfowl species respond favorably to the increased availability of wetlands with increased recruitment. However, the adage that "when the water comes back, the ducks will come back" is no longer true. Important wetland margins and the surrounding uplands have been heavily and negatively affected by intensive agricultural and other forms of development throughout the breeding range of most ducks, particularly prairie nesters. Because of the impact of man's action, many hen mallards, for example, fail to raise a brood of ducklings. Many are killed on the nest either directly by agricultural operations or by predators that can efficiently search the small areas of nesting cover still available.

The recent period of high to average precipitation across a broad portion of the Prairie Potholes of northcentral U.S. and the prairie provinces of Canada - the "duck factory" - has substantiated the selection of the CFC's priority. The populations of many duck species have increased during this period. However, populations increased the most where the U.S Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) provided extensive and undisturbed nesting cover. There is no such program in Canada, which includes the heart of northern pintail breeding habitat and that species has shown little response to improved precipitation.

While conditions are severe on the breeding grounds, they are no less severe on migration routes and wintering grounds. These two habitat types are being impacted by farming, wetland drainage, irrigation, plowing of grasslands, dams built on river courses, urbanization, pollution, mining and logging.

Managing all species and populations of geese remains a priority of the CFC. All goose populations in the Central Flyway have been increasing in numbers. Realizing that harvest regulations often have a significant impact on goose populations, managers had implemented restrictive bag sizes and season dates during the last two to three decades of the 1900's. Waterfowl hunters have supported these harvest restrictions, recognizing their value in providing healthy goose populations in the future. The restoration of the giant Canada goose to its former breeding range is a success story exemplifying cooperative effort between waterfowl management agencies and sportsmen. Beginning in the late-1990's, goose hunting regulations have been liberalized for at least two reasons: improved surveys provided more reliable estimates of population size and; it was recognized that some goose populations were above objective levels and getting too large. This latter reason is particularly true for Mid-Continent snow geese and "resident" or local population of Canada geese.

One reason why goose populations have increased while duck populations have gone up and down is that goose nesting habitat has been relatively secure from man's actions. In addition, some goose populations have adapted to newly created areas (e.g., city lakes) and to using agricultural crops for food. But the security of nesting habitat in some northern breeding areas now appears questionable. Exploration for and development of fossil fuel and diamond deposits in the breeding range of white-fronted geese and some populations of Arctic breeding Canada geese is progressing, mostly unnoticed. Without constant vigilance and a willingness to act, goose breeding habitat could reach the same critical level as that for ducks.