Our Story

Some 10,000 years ago, the last massive continental ice sheet retreated northward leaving behind a hummocky terrain of glacial till, scoured rock and countless chunks of ice. With time and the workings of plants, animals, water and ice, the freed land transformed. Rich prairie soil developed under verdant grass, millions of depressions filled with water and a 776,000 km2 area from Iowa to Alberta became the most important breeding grounds for waterbirds on the continent.

But after 150 years of human exploitation, and agricultural and industrial development, the land was rapidly losing its richness, resilience and ability to support native wildlife and vital wetland functions.

When the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) was signed in 1986, a key element in the planners’ vision was the hopeful emergence of something called “joint-venture partnerships” in the regions of North America most vital to waterfowl. Pooling skills, resources and the abilities of both government and the private sector, the Joint Ventures were to provide the regional stewardship necessary to fulfil collectively the annual-cycle needs of waterfowl.

Initially, six such areas were identified, including the vital breeding grounds of the mid-continent Prairie Pothole Region, 300,000 square miles of farmlands, grasslands and millions of small wetlands arching between Alberta and central Iowa.

No one had attempted to do conservation on this scale, or in this way before, and there was much to figure out in terms of strategy, roles, decision making, funding, coordination, reporting and myriad other details. And it was imperative that this all be done in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Now, more than 30 years along, the PHJV is a strong, mature and confident partnership of agencies, still pursuing the founding vision of the Joint Venture – “… healthy prairie, parkland and boreal landscapes that support sustainable bird populations and provide ecological and economic benefits for society”. Creation of the PHJV and other joint ventures is an enduring legacy of the 1986 North American Waterfowl Management Plan, and a primary reason for the Plan’s success.

While the core prairie waterfowl conservation work still predominates, the partnership now also provides administrative and planning support for the Western Boreal Forest Initiative, covering an area of more than 3 million km2 (47% of which is classified as waterfowl habitat) and second only to the prairie pothole region in its importance to breeding waterfowl. The JV has also supported planning, research and conservation actions for other wetland and grassland-dependent birds with incremental funds granted for that purpose.

The Planning Challenge

When Canada and the U.S. signed the visionary North American Waterfowl Management Plan in 1986, conservation partners in Prairie Canada were challenged to design and deliver a habitat conservation program on a scale no one had previously dreamed. The audacious goal: to improve duck production and survival on more than 300,000 mi2 of prairie pothole landscape, over 15 years, and to restore depressed populations to the level of the 1970s. Hopes were high, excitement reigned, but there was no PHJV, no new money, and great uncertainty about how to convert the dream into meaningful results.

Every agency had done individual projects before, from a few acres to several square miles in size, but no one, in Canada or elsewhere, had planned and delivered programs on a scale such as this! What to do? Where to do it? How much would be needed? How might partners pool talent and resources to make it happen? It was quickly clear that business as usual would not suffice. A wholly new approach to conservation planning, delivery and evaluation would be needed.