It is estimated that over 70 percent of the wetlands in the arid West are privately owned, and in the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington, over 70 percent of those are still impacted by drainage ditches. Farmers and ranchers protect a large proportion of this landscape, which provides their livelihood, while providing valuable habitat to wildlife. However, threats exist. Wetland loss to land conversion continues, and changing land and water uses, limited water supplies, and climate change all have impacts on wetlands and wetland dependent wildlife. Conservation partners in Eastern Washington are working towards solutions for working landscapes to protect and enhance both wildlife habitat and the agricultural way of life in this region.
Partners have identified critical data gaps that need to be filled in order to be more strategic and effective in achieving landscape level conservation goals, and one of these gaps was spring migratory waterfowl data. Eastern Washington has been known for decades to be an important migratory stopover in spring, however no one has performed large-scale surveys of bird abundance, distribution across the landscape, habitat use, species composition, and migration chronology. From February to April 2016, the first-ever spring migration waterfowl surveys were performed in the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) headed up aerial surveys, and staff from WDFW, Ducks Unlimited, Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, and volunteers from Friends of Turnbull, Eastern WA University, Gonzaga University, and Spokane Audubon Chapter performed counts along several driving routes through Lincoln, Spokane, Adams, and Whitman counties. This was the first year of a planned four-year survey.
Data is currently being analyzed and will help the Eastern Washington conservation partnership better understand how the birds use this landscape, with the ultimate goal of working more effectively with landowners to accomplish strategic habitat protection and restoration. Funding for the aerial surveys came from a WDFW Migratory Bird Stamp and Artwork Program grant. Staff time is being donated by DU, WDFW, Audubon, and Turnbull NWR. The IWJV awarded partners a capacity grant to begin landowner outreach activities in late 2016.