Preserving The “Atlantic Flyway”

Ian McCallum and chocolate lab Nash call in mallards while laying in a flooded corn field in Cape Vincent during a hunt in 2017. McCallum is an avid hunter and Ducks Unlimited member.

BY: Norah Machia
Starting this spring, more than $3.3 million will be invested in a project being spearheaded by the nonprofit Ducks Unlimited organization to preserve and restore vital wetlands throughout the north country.

     The funds will be used to protect 2,700 acres of wetlands throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, which will also include associated habitats for waterfowl and other wildlife, said Chris Sebastian, a Ducks Unlimited spokesperson. 

     “New York is an important focus for us,” Mr. Sebastian said. “It contains vital wetland habitats for birds migrating north and south.”

     The state is positioned in what is considered the “Atlantic Flyway,” one of several “aerial highways” that have been identified for birds migrating between breeding grounds in Canada and wintering grounds as far south as Mexico.

    Most of the areas that have been identified for the preservation and restoration efforts are located near important aquatic resources such as bays, rivers and streams, and other protected lands.

     It’s a continuation of an earlier phase of work that protected 1,901 acres and enhanced 200 acres of important wetland habitat landscapes in the same region last year. These included large interior freshwater wetland complexes, and coastal wetland habitats along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

     The Ducks Unlimited organization was created following the Dustbowl in the 1930s, a period when severe dust storms caused great damage to the American and Canadian prairies. These intense storms resulted in the destruction of large amounts of wetland habitats, and a sharp decline in the waterfowl populations.

     In 1937, a small group of Canadian conservationists recognized the importance of habitat conservation to maintaining a migratory route through the United States for the majority of North America’s waterfowls, which were breeding in the Canadian prairies.

   Today, the organization has earned a reputation of the “world’s leader in wetland and waterfowl conservation” and works with a variety of partners, including private individuals, landowners, agencies, scientific organizations and others.

     Ducks Unlimited has more than 16,000 members throughout New York State, and carries out wetland conservation projects on both public and private lands. These projects are supported by a combination of fund-raising events held by the members of local chapters, and commitments from other agencies dedicated to the conservation of wetlands.

   These partnerships have enabled the Ducks Unlimited organization to work toward the conservation of more than 54,000 acres throughout New York State, and 14 million acres across North America, Mr. Sebastian said.    

     “Over the years, human development has threatened habitats for ducks and other wildlife,” he said. “Our job is to protect what’s left and restore what’s been damaged.”  

     In some cases, “we will enhance what’s there” by creating or building upon infrastructure systems to control water levels, he said.  Other efforts involve working with private landowners and local land trusts to establish conservation easements that will protect land from future development.

     A major $1 million grant was awarded for the second phase of the north country project this month through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. That grant was matched with another $2,347,646 from Ducks Unlimited and numerous partners to reach a total of $3,347,676.

    Those partners included the town of Brownville, Chippewa Point Road Alliance, Inc., Indian River Lakes Conservancy, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Ontario Bays Initiative Inc., Onondaga Audubon Society, St. Lawrence Land Trust, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, Thousand Islands Land Trust and the U.S. Department of Defense.

    “We do nothing by ourselves,” Mr. Sebastian said, “We always work with the help of other agencies and organizations.”

      These efforts will not only benefit wildlife, but will also help the public as well, he said. They are targeted toward improving public access for outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, hunting and bird-watching. The wetland conservation efforts are also directed at improving water quality in the Great Lakes and other areas.

    Plans call for a total of 17 projects throughout Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties as part of the second phase. It will include the protection of 1,996 acres in the three counties, along with the following projects: the restoration of 20 acres at Point Peninsula Wildlife Management Center; 661 acres at Perch River Wildlife Management Area, and 22 acres at Blind Bay Marsh.

  For more information or to find a local chapter, visit