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Win-win partnerships for effective conservation

Joint Ventures

Ellie M. Cohen

The waterfowl Joint Ventures are now expanding to include shorebirds and other bird groups--and embrace "all bird" conservation. Photo © Doug Wechsler / VIREO.
In today's deficit-ridden economy, the outlook for increased investment in habitat and wildlife protection may appear to be less than optimistic. However, there is real cause for encouragement. The conservation of bird populations and habitats in North America is alive and well, in a form you may not know--the Joint Venture.

Joint Ventures (JVs) are not your standard contractual business relationship. Rather, they are voluntary, public-private, conservation partnerships.

Joint Ventures were initially envisioned in the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), an international agreement promoted by an extensive hunting lobby and signed by the United States and Canada in 1986. NAWMP JV partners committed to reversing record declines in waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) by restoring and protecting wetlands. Mexico joined as a signatory in 1994.

This bold new approach, international in scope but regionally implemented, has proven to be tremendously successful and a model for win-win conservation solutions around the world.

Joint Ventures discussed in this Observer. 1) California Current System. 2) San Francisco Bay. 3) Central Valley. 4) Sonoran Desert.
In the U.S. today there are 12 land-based JVs, covering much of the country and extending into Canada and Mexico. Canada also has three of its own, and there are plans for new JVs in the U.S. as well as Mexico.

While day-to-day JV coordination is funded by a line item ($10.4 million in 2004) in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) budget, it is the partners that generate the financial, scientific, and other support for habitat conservation projects.

Each JV has distinct strategies, embodied in "implementation plans," to achieve specific habitat acreage goals, and all have met with success. Why? I believe it is due to the diversity of partners--from developers, utilities, growers, and oil, timber and mining companies to hunters, private landowners, birders, biologists, land preservationists, and local, state and federal resource managers.

Having such a wide range of concerns represented at the same table can mean conflicting priorities and some highly charged meetings. Indeed, we at PRBO have been right in the thick of it, helping to bring the best science to bear.

Yet despite these tensions and differences, in the 17 years since NAWMP's inception, JV partners have leveraged $2.2 billion in public and private funds to protect, restore, and enhance over 8 million acres of priority wetlands across the continent!

"All Bird" Initiatives

Non-game bird conservation initiatives were inspired by the early success of the Waterfowl Plan and the ever-increasing need to reverse the decline of other birds and habitat types.

The non-game bird conservation goals were generally not incorporated into JV wetland objectives. By the late 1990s, however, birds and their habitats faced increasing threats across North America. At the same time, birding and wildlife watching became one of the fastest growing hobbies in the U.S. (with $40 billion to state and local economies in 2003 alone, according to the USFWS).

These and other factors catalyzed the formation, in 1999, of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative (NABCI, pronounced NAB-SEE). It aims to provide a forum to integrate the different bird initiatives for more effective, comprehensive conservation in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, and beyond.

The Future of the JVs

Initially waterfowl-only, JVs are now beginning to embrace "all bird" conservation goals and are viewed by many as the primary partnership vehicle for implementing effective conservation continentally. This approach is sound biologically, politically and economically, resulting in an expanded funding pie in these tough economic times.

In fact, we at PRBO believe the JV model can be used to implement effective conservation at sea, as well (see page 5 of this Observer)! Along with this evolution, PRBO has grown by leaps and bounds. We are a leader both regionally and nationally, serving on JV boards and technical committees in the West as well as on the 13-member U.S. NABCI Committee.

Through sound science, PRBO is helping to ensure that every dollar invested really does result in conservation of birds and other wildlife--an investment that is not only good for birds but good for the economy and for people, as well!

This PRBO Observer aims to introduce you to our world of Joint Ventures and effective conservation planning.

For more information and links to the various bird initiatives, please visit