Migratory ducks are no ones property in EU

In North America ducks are managed on flyway base since the 1940’s. Flyways are routes that ducks use during the year, for example breeding areas, migratory ways and wintering areas. There are four big flyways in North America, reaching areas both from the USA and Canada. Flyway Councils manage duck population on certain flyways, and members from the USA and Canada work together. The two countries don’t affect each other’s laws, but have representatives sitting in the same table when making management plans. The goal of many American researchers is to understand better the limiting and regulating factors at the flyway level – and therefore reach more efficient management of duck populations.

Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi provides great circumstances for wintering ducks. The park is protected, but bird watching is aloud in some parts of the park. Duck hunting is possible outside the park in private lands. © Sari Holopainen

Coldwater River National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi provides great circumstances for wintering ducks. The park is protected, but bird watching is aloud in some parts of the park. Duck hunting is possible outside the park in private lands. © Sari Holopainen

Europe doesn’t have united flyway management. This means that every country plans its own management, but it is not efficient. We would need a “European Wildlife Service”. An EU-level council would be perfect for efficiently managing the sustainable use of common nature resources, migratory animals. Nowadays, if one country prepares management plans for some duck species, they might not be efficient because the limiting factors can be somewhere else. In addition, management made by another country might foil the realization anyway. Ducks breed in one country, migrate through others and winter in another. They are hunted everywhere, with separate rules and for example without adaptation to yearly breeding success.

European duck populations are counted country wise during the winter time, but because climate conditions differ between years and within the winter, populations move between countries. Some ducks might be counted several times during the same winter. Some are not counted at all because they have moved to areas that are not traditionally covered by counting. Population measures and trends are thus unsure. Cooperation between countries is needed to resolve the actual population size: because climate change shifts open-water areas into the north, many duck species are declining in the southern Baltic Sea and at concurrently increasing in the northern parts of the Baltic.

Wintering population of tufted duck has increased 24 797% in Finland. At the same time the populations in Western European countries have declined ~40% (Lehikoinen et al. 2013). © Sari Holopainen

Wintering population of tufted duck has increased over 24 000% in Finland. At the same time the populations in Western European countries have declined ~40% (Lehikoinen et al. 2013).                           © Sari Holopainen

One difference between Europe and the USA is also the controversial relationships between the nature conservationists, wildlife managers, hunters and researchers of Europe. Although the targets (i.e. sustainable duck populations) might be the same and hunters for example restore wetlands in great effort, juxtapositions between stakeholders are tight. When I visited the Sixth North American Duck Symposium, I got the impression that cooperation between researchers, conservationists, managers and hunters is working quite well in North America. Science became a natural part of management and all stakeholders were represented in the symposium. For example “adaptive harvest management” of ducks needs close cooperation between managers and researches. Also combing conservation and hunting seemed possible. Especially in wetland conservation efforts, hunting has been an important source of support. This gap between stakeholders is something we in Europe should shrink. Only researchers attend European duck symposiums and therefore discussion between stakeholders does not occur.

NOWACA lot of effort is put into duck research in Europe which could be used as a base for flyway level management. Cooperation between some countries has already begun. Nordic Waterbirds and Climate Network (NOWAC) is a composition of researchers from universities, research institutes, conservation agencies and hunting organizations from five Nordic countries. The aim of the network is “to improve existing knowledge and provide new information on how climate change affects Nordic wetland ecosystems and the distribution, ecology and abundance of the migrant waterbirds that use them throughout their annual cycle”. This is good example of bottom-up work, which responds the worry about duck populations and the need for managing populations at the flyway level. The work of NOWAC could be implemented into European flyway management.

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