The Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative: Managing Waterbird Habitats After The 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Author(s): Kaminski, R.; Davis, J.; Webb, L.; Tapp, J.; Weegman, M.

In response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funded the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), providing landowners in eight Gulf coastal states $40 M in cost-share assistance to manage wetland habitats for waterbirds inland from the spill through 1-3-year contracts. As part of the comprehensive MBHI, we quantified (1) waterbird use of MBHI managed (i.e., primarily artificial flooding), non-managed, and other wetlands and (2) potential food resources for these birds in wetlands in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley (MAV). Managed Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) lands received significantly greater use by waterbirds than passively or non-managed WRP easements. In Louisiana and Mississippi, nearly 3 times more dabbling ducks (Anatini) and all ducks combined (Anatinae) were observed on MBHI than on non-managed WRP wetlands. Additionally, waterbirds other than waterfowl and shorebirds were nearly twice more abundant on MBHI than non-managed WRP wetlands. In Arkansas and Missouri, MBHI wetlands attracted over 2 times more dabbling ducks than non-managed WRP wetlands. Concerning food abundance and habitat carrying capacity for waterbirds, MBHI wetlands in Louisiana and Mississippi contained ≥1.26 and ≥1.53 times more total seed biomass and biomass of seeds known to be eaten by waterfowl, respectively, than non-managed WRP wetlands. In Arkansas and Missouri, seed biomass during winter was 21% greater on MBHI wetlands than non-managed WRP wetlands. While no significant differences in aquatic invertebrate biomass or number of invertebrate families were detected between managed and non-managed WRP wetlands in Arkansas and Missouri, production of invertebrates during autumn was 3 times greater on MBHI wetlands than non-managed WRP wetlands. During winter, invertebrate biomass was approximately 40% greater on MBHI and non-managed WRP wetlands than public-owned managed wetlands in these states. Our evaluation implies that MBHI management increased waterbird use and potential foraging carrying capacity of WRP wetlands for waterbirds and possibly provided alternative habitats for these birds inland from oil impacted Gulf coastal wetlands. Continued financial incentives to landowners in the MAV and nationally to manage wetlands at conservation easements following restoration have the potential to increase contribution of private lands to waterbird habitat availability and carrying capacity.

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