In 1985, waterfowl populations had plummeted to record lows. Historical data indicated that since the first settlers arrived 53 percent of the original 221 million wetland acres found in the contiguous United States had been destroyed. The habitat that waterfowl depend on for survival was disappearing at a rate of 60 acres per hour. The picture was the same across Canada, where a large percentage of the United States' wintering waterfowl nest. Wetland losses across Canada were estimated to be 29 to 71 percent since settlement.

Waterfowl were then and are now the most prominent and economically important group of migratory birds of the North American continent. By 1985, approximately 3.2 million people were spending nearly $1 billion annually to hunt waterfowl. By 1985, interest in waterfowl and other migratory birds had grown in other arenas as well. About 18.6 million people observed, photographed, and otherwise appreciated waterfowl and spent $2 billion for the pleasure of doing it.

Recognizing the importance of waterfowl and wetlands to North Americans and the need for international cooperation to help in the recovery of a shared resource, the U.S. and Canadian governments developed a strategy to restore waterfowl populations through habitat protection, restoration, and enhancement. The strategy was documented in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan signed in 1986 by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, the foundation partnership upon which hundreds of others would be built. With its update in 1994, Mexico became a signatory to the Plan.

The 1998 update expanded the Plan's vision: partners would implement the plan guided by biologically based planning, which would then be refined through ongoing evaluation; partners would define the landscape conditions needed to sustain waterfowl and benefit other wetland-associated species; and Plan partners would collaborate with other bird initiatives and reach out to others sectors and communities to forge broader alliances.

The theme for the 2004 update, "Strengthening the Biological Foundation", called upon Canadian, U.S. and Mexican partners to carry out a comprehensive, science-based assessment to help reshape investments and activities so that future habitat conservation efforts through the joint ventures would provide even greater returns for waterfowl and other wildlife over a 15 year time line. The 2004 Plan was presented in two separate documents. The "Implementation Framework" provided details of the Plan’s themes and included much supporting technical information for use by biologists and land managers.  The companion document, "Strategic Guidance", was comparable in length and scope to the 1986 Plan and the updates of 1994 and 1998. It was directed to all Plan partners, agency administrators, and policy makers who set the direction and priorities for conservation in our three countries.

The Plan is a living and evolving document that is updated periodically with engagement of the broad waterfowl conservation community.  NAWMP updates in 1994, 1998 and 2004 described abundant waterfowl populations as the ultimate goal for the Plan, which in turn acted through science-based habitat conservation. A major revision to the Plan completed in 2012, aims to achieve broad consensus on the fundamental goals of waterfowl conservation through stakeholder consultation. For the first time NAWMP goals related to people were explicitly recognized.

The Premise

The Plan is innovative because its perspective is international in scope, but its implementation functions at the regional level. Its success is dependent upon the strength of partnerships, called "joint ventures," involving federal, state, provincial, tribal, and local governments, businesses, conservation organizations, and individual citizens. Joint ventures develop implementation plans focusing on areas of concern identified in the Plan.

Partners' conservation projects not only advance waterfowl conservation, but make substantial contributions toward the conservation of all wetland-associated species. There are 18 Plan habitat joint ventures in the United States and 4 in Canada. Two of these have international status, one with boundaries stretching across the Canadian-United States border and one that encompasses areas of the United States and Mexico. Three species joint ventures have also been formed to address monitoring and research needs of specific species or species groups. The species joint ventures are also international in scope.

The Plan Committee

The North American Waterfowl Management Plan Committee is an international body that provides leadership and oversight for the activities undertaken in support of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Its purpose is to provide a forum for discussion of major, long-term international waterfowl issues and to make recommendations to directors of the three countries' national wildlife agencies.

The Committee is responsible for updating the Plan, considering new scientific information and national and international policy developments, and for identifying the need to expand or diminish activities carried out on behalf of the Plan. The U.S. delegation to the Plan Committee consists of two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives and one state representative from each of the four migratory flyways. Canada's six delegates represent the federal and provincial governments and non-profit conservation organizations. In Mexico, delegates represent the federal government, universities, business, and non-profit conservation organizations. The three federal natural resource agencies each have a permanent seat. The remaining seats have a 3-year rotation.

The NAWMP Science Support Team (NSST) was created in 2000 to provide technical advice to the Plan Committee. Its mission is “To help strengthen the biological foundations of the Plan, and facilitate continuous improvement of Plan conservation programs.” The NSST consists of three national representatives appointed by the Plan Committee Co-Chairs and one technical representative from each of the joint ventures and flyway councils. Ad-hoc members may also be appointed by the co-chairs of the Plan Committee

The Pintail Action Group is a cooperative group of public and private interests dedicated to the conservation of the Northern Pintail. Endorsed by the Plan Committee, the group operates under and reports to the NSST..


To date, Plan joint ventures have invested $7.5 billion to protect, restore, and/or enhance 22 million acres of waterfowl habitat. Their projects not only advance waterfowl conservation, but make substantial contributions toward the conservation of all wetland-associated species. Additionally, the Plan joint venture concept has been upheld as the model to follow by conservationists endeavoring to address many other resource issues.

Last updated: March 26, 2014