Once a place for millions of ducks, geese, and swan to winter and build their energy reserves by eating underwater grasses, clams and mussels, today Chesapeake Bay region is home to only about 1 million birds in the winter — almost a third of the entire Atlantic coast waterfowl population. While some species have thrived, others have diminished including, the American black duck, tundra swan, redhead duck and canvasback duck. In some cases, such as the black duck, waterfowl populations are at historically low levels as natural and human factors have reshaped habitats, altered food resources, and changed the ecology of the Chesapeake system itself. The major current threats to the persistence of waterfowl populations in the region are:
- Loss of habitat due to coastal development and other land use changes;
- Loss of food resources due to water pollution and other human activities that have influenced the ecology of the system; and
- Effects of climate change, especially rising sea level and heightened storm surges.
Clearly, there are ecological and cultural benefits of a healthy waterfowl community in the Chesapeake. However, the economic value of these species makes an equally compelling argument for their conservation. According to a 2012 study, outdoor recreation activities on the Delmarva Peninsula drive an economy valued at nearly $4 billion per year and support tens of thousands of jobs. Hunting, fishing and wildlife watching on the Delmarva draw 1.6 million participants who spend more than $1.5 billion in the region annually.
Strides have been made since Dr. Harry M. Walsh, in his 1971 book “The Outlaw Gunner,” brought attention to the depleting populations of geese, swans and ducks that migrate annually through the Chesapeake Bay. Four decades of attention to this cause – focusing primarily on restoring and replacing dwindling acreage of wetland habitat – has served as a strong foundation for Waterfowl Chesapeake’s mission to Fund, Engage and Convene communities across Delmarva.