Wind Beneath Their Wings: Conservation Funding Keeps Migratory Birds in Flight

The winning artwork for the 2011 duck stamp (Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0)


For any migratory bird, there are few gifts better than a bunch of new acres and some heightened protection that keeps your precious wetland habitat safe. That’s what the US Fish and Wildlife Service has helped to secure by approving a chunk of funding last week that came from the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission and the North American Wetlands Act, and which is intended to preserve habitat that over 700 bird species need to thrive.

The sum—over $25 million—will be used in two ways. First, it will see the protection and enhancement of wetland habitat across the United States and Mexico where migrating birds summer and winter. Second, it will be used to expand the National Wildlife Refuge System, a network of protected habitats across the US that, among other things, ensures that many millions of migrating birds have a safe place to stop over on their epic flights.

Much of this migratory flyway is made up of wetland habitat on the ground, which is why conservationists have honed in on this particular landscape. Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the organization’s press release, “Wetlands are some of the most biologically rich habitats in our country, providing nesting and foraging ground for migratory species.” He went on to add, however, “They are also facing some of the greatest threats including habitat degradation, land conversion and sea-level rise.”

Part of the funding comes from the proceeds of the famed Duck Stamp program, an annual initiative that was spearheaded in 1934 in the form of a license that hunters needed to buy in order to hunt migratory waterfowl. It has since evolved into a kind of conservation pledge, whereby hunters and others pay $15 for the ‘stamp’ (it can’t actually be used as postage), knowing that 98 cents of every dollar goes towards purchasing wetland habitats that get protected. This year’s stamp, decked in the winner’s artwork of a duck, as is tradition, will come out on June 29th.

Former Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, said to the Wildlife Management Institute that this annual contribution by hunters should be credited for helping to keep “important habitat ‘open for business’ for our nation’s wildlife.”

Also key to this conservation effort is the funding that allows the expansion and protection of habitat not only in the US, but in Mexico as well, where neotropical migratory birds fly during the harsher parts of the US winter. The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the largest portion of the funding

will protect, restore or enhance more than 170,000 acres of habitat for migratory birds in the United States and Mexico…Eighteen projects in 15 United States and seven projects in Mexico will receive North American Wetlands Conservation Act funding. 

For the 200 species of migratory shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl, that means more continuous habitat and lots of protected resting spots, setting them up for safer journeys to their summer and winter homes.

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