Division of Bird Habitat Conservation

Birdscapes: News from International Habitat Conservation Partnerships

Project Profiles - Canada

Alberta Stewardship is Working for the Landowner
by Kim Kiel, Ducks Unlimited Canada

Conservation is cruising right along in the Cooking Lake Moraine of Central Alberta. The Cooking Lake Moraine (CLM) Stewardship Project seeks to retain native wetland and upland habitat threatened by rural residential development, while giving landowners the opportunity to actively participate in habitat conservation on their own lands.

Located east of Edmonton, the CLM is an important waterfowl production area. Increasing threats from residential expansion prompted the pilot stewardship project in 1996. Encompassing an area of 1,500 square kilometres, the project identified landowners with at least 5 acres of native wetland or upland habitat. Landowners were approached and encouraged to install nesting tunnels or boxes on their properties. Ten-year agreements ensure that landowners will retain wetlands and ungrazed uplands in their natural state, while allowing Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) personnel onsite to install or maintain the nest structures.

"The Cooking Lake Moraine Stewardship Project is very effective at conserving habitat," said the project's coordinator, Laurel Murphy. With an exceptionally high acceptance rate of 30 percent among local landowners, the project has conserved over 5,000 acres of the CLM's native habitat.

The true success of the project, according to Murphy, is illustrated by landowner compliance. A survey of land under agreement showed that 100 percent of participating landowners maintained their agreement to retain and idle native habitat, regardless of when the initial agreement was signed.

"Nesting structures serve as a reminder of both the agreement with DUC to idle native habitat and the value of this habitat to wildlife," said Jonathan Thompson, senior biologist in the Aspen Parkland field office. Many field biologists have observed that landowners avoid draining or modifying wetlands with nest structures.

Central to the success of this North American Waterfowl Management Plan-funded project are the partnerships that Murphy formed with the landowners, the five municipalities involved, and the community at large. "Landowners would see that their neighbours were participating in the CLM project, which encouraged them to participate as well," says Murphy. Community reception and public awareness of DUC has also increased.

Conservation is highly visible in this area. Ducks Unlimited Canada erects land steward signs adjacent to cooperators' properties. Participants sport land steward hats, and are encouraged to become DUC members. To meet the project's goal of educating the public about conservation, Murphy has used the nest-box program to work with several Greenwing groups on wetland and waterfowl conservation. This high profile project has also generated considerable media coverage and numerous articles have been published in the local papers.

"Nest structures undoubtedly appeal to the human desire to do something for wildlife and are an excellent opportunity to involve more people in conservation," said Thompson. By installing nest structures, landowners are reminded of their commitment to conservation, native wetlands and uplands are retained, and duck populations increase. Given the demonstrated success of the CLM Stewardship Project, it is no wonder that in the coming year it will be used as a model to start a similar project in important moraine habitats to the west of Edmonton.

For more information, contact Jonathan Thompson, Ducks Unlimited Canada, 200 - 10720 178 Street, Edmonton, Alberta T5S 1J3, (780) 489-2002, j_thompson@ducks.ca.

Southern Alberta Projects Just Keep Getting Bigger
by Ron Montgomery for Ducks Unlimited Canada

The Contra Costa Project, located approximately 25 kilometers southeast of Brooks, Alberta, represents the largest and most diversified mixed grass wetland/upland complex ever undertaken by Ducks Unlimited Canada in Alberta. This massive, multi-use, multi-benefit restoration project is Alberta's Natural Legacy 2000-Canada Millennium Partnership Project.

Over 70 kilometers of reconstructed canals, 53 water-control structures, and numerous dykes will supply and impound water for 46 segments of managed wetlands, totaling over 2,950 hectares. Complementing these wetlands will be eight segments of managed upland nest cover, totaling over 25,600 hectares.

Ducks Unlimited Canada first began work on the project (then called the Tilley-Louisiana Complex) in 1943, when it consisted of six wetland basins. Over the next 30 years, more than 35 additional wetland basins were constructed. Water supply for the wetlands came from the Eastern Irrigation District (District) through their canal system. In recent years, operation of this complex, with its aging conveyance system, was becoming increasingly difficult and expensive to maintain. Adequate upland nest cover was also limited, thereby contributing to an overall decline in the project's waterfowl productivity.

In 1998, a new agreement with the District was formalized to address remedial works and project enhancements. Large tracts of nearby upland nest cover will now be managed for optimum waterfowl production, while still adequately addressing livestock grazing needs. A 25-year water supply agreement with the District will ensure a secure supply of water in any given year.

Abundant riparian habitat throughout the project will be extensively managed. A combination of planned water-level fluctuation and controlled livestock stocking rates will ensure the riparian zones remain in peak condition for both wildlife and livestock. Sensitive species indigenous to Alberta and relevant to this area include the burrowing owl, piping plover, ferruginous hawk, long-billed curlew, Great Plains toad, northern leopard frog, plains spadefoot, and the prairie rattlesnake.

Contra Costa is expected to be completed in 2001 and is part of the Natural Legacy 2000 program, a Canada-wide initiative to conserve wildlife and habitats on private and public lands. Ducks Unlimited Canada gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada's Millennium Partnership Program.

"At the turn of the millennium, Ducks Unlimited Canada is expanding its success in conserving and enhancing waterfowl habitat," said the Honourable Herb Gray, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister responsible for the Government of Canada's millennium initiative. "The Government of Canada is proud to support Ducks Unlimited's endeavours. Through its Canada Millennium Partnership Program, it has contributed $10 million to a program called Natural Legacy 2000, which is aimed at conserving natural spaces in Canada, and in which Ducks Unlimited is a partner."

For more information, contact Ducks Unlimited Canada's Prairie District Office, (403) 362-4827.