The Waterfowler's Guide to Global Warming

Potential and current threats to America's waterfowl

06-01-2005 // Patty Glick
Waterfowlers Guide to Global Warming Report Cover

Ducks, geese, and swans are important to waterfowl hunters, birders, and others. Annually in the United States, sportsmen and sportswomen spend some 12 million days hunting waterfowl. Waterfowl viewing is also popular among the more than 46 million birders in the United States. Moreover, waterfowl are integral components of natural ecosystems. For nearly a century, waterfowl conservation has been a priority for North America’s citizens, leading to the development of numerous policies and programs to restore and protect waterfowl species and their habitats. But the job is far from complete.

In addition to the ongoing threat of habitat destruction due to development, agricultural conversion, and other activities, human-enhanced global warming has emerged as a significant challenge to conserving waterfowl populations for current and future generations. Fortunately, it is a challenge that can be met by seizing opportunities to better protect waterfowl habitat and curb global warming pollution.

The potential consequences of global warming to waterfowl are significant because of the strong relationship between waterfowl and water conditions. Although the precise effects of global warming on waterfowl are difficult to project, the best available science offers significant insight into what is likely to happen if global warming continues unabated. While some localized effects may be positive, the overall impact on waterfowl populations is likely to be negative.

Fortunately, Americans can take action now to change the forecast for waterfowl and other wildlife. Addressing global warming’s challenge to waterfowl should include upholding Clean Water Act and Farm Bill wetlands protections and expanding other programs that encourage protection and restoration of wetlands. In addition to reducing the impact of other non-climatic stressors on wetland ecosystems, wildlife managers should plan for the potential effects of global warming when developing wetland and waterfowl conservation strategies, including reforming floodplain and coastal-management practices to conserve these resources for the long term.

Finally, the most effective way to minimize the threat is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases by enacting policies that set specific limits on the nation’s global warming pollution; protecting and enhancing the ability of forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other natural systems to absorb and store carbon; strengthening programs to promote energy efficiency; and accelerate deployment of clean renewable energy sources.

But policy makers must begin to take meaningful action today, because even 100 years after carbon dioxide is released, much of it remains in the atmosphere, trapping more and more heat. Delaying action will allow more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to accumulate in the atmosphere, making worse case projections more likely to occur. This report describes the solutions that are at hand, and how, with the right investments, people can change the forecast for waterfowl and ensure that the economic opportunities, ecological benefits, and outdoor traditions they support will endure for generations to come.