US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Loesch CR, Reynolds RE, Hansen LT. 2012. An assessment of re-directing breeding waterfowl conservation relative to predictions of climate change. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 3(1):1-22; e1944-687X. doi: 10.3996/ 032011-JFWM-020


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a long history of habitat conservation in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the United States that has focused on migratory birds, particularly waterfowl. The ongoing acquisition program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System has conserved approximately 1.1 million hectares of critical breeding waterfowl habitat. Results of recent predicted future climate scenarios are being used to suggest that waterfowl conservation be shifted away from currently important areas in the western and central portions of the U.S. PPR eastward, to locations where wetland and climate models suggest may become more conducive for providing wetland habitat for breeding ducks in the future. We used 24 years of breeding waterfowl and wetland monitoring data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife Refuge System in the PPR of North and South Dakota and northeast Montana, along with land value and restoration cost data to conduct an economic assessment of the biological risk of refocusing waterfowl conservation efforts eastward due to recent projections of climate change. We considered the immediate risk of the loss of existing wetland and grassland resources in the western portion of the U.S. PPR, their current carrying capacity and production potential, the financial cost of protection vs. restoration relative to current conservation priorities, and the uncertainty of climate change effects on waterfowl habitat distribution. Because unprotected wetland and grassland habitats exist in the western and central portions of the PPR that are important for maintaining current waterfowl carrying capacity and productivity, and climate change effects are highly uncertain, maintaining the current focus of habitat protection appears to be the most cost effective approach for waterfowl habitat conservation efforts. Additionally, continued intensive monitoring activities designed to detect changing waterfowl populations and upland and wetland habitat as they relate to anthropogenic impacts (e.g., pattern tile drainage, grassland conversion) and climatic changes (e.g., wetland hydro-period), should provide more precise results to inform and adapt management and conservation activities accordingly should spatial and temporal changes in wet-dry cycles occur in the future.