Q&A with David Matheson, Conservation Programs Specialist of Ducks Unlimited Canada

Bruneig project near Fairview

Your mission is to conserve, restore and manage wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. How important is it to work together with farmers in our area of the province?
For Ducks Unlimited Canada, or DUC, to do our conservation work, collaboration with farmers is critical. In many areas, land used for agricultural purposes such as grazing and haying make for good waterfowl nesting habitat. These lands also provide habitat for other wildlife species as well as native vegetation. Wetlands on the landscape contribute to better air quality as they sequester carbon from the atmosphere and contribute to better water quality as they filter impurities from watersheds. Both elements are critically important to farmers and for sustaining a healthy agricultural industry, not only for Alberta but for Canada as well.

Some people may be surprised to hear that Ducks Unlimited Canada has hunting roots. Can you share a bit about that?
Celebrating outdoor traditions such as water fowling is part of DUC’s story, dating back to 1938. DUC was founded in 1938 by sportsmen – specifically waterfowl hunters. During the Great Depression, wetlands were disappearing in the drought. As a result, waterfowl populations were plummeting. Our founders were conservation-minded individuals who recognized that conserving wetlands helps ensure the future of waterfowl populations. They set out to stop the destruction of Canada’s wetlands and prime waterfowl habitats by initiating habitat conservation projects and raising funds to support these efforts. DUC is proud of its waterfowl hunting heritage and continues to promote the pastime to connect with nature and develop an appreciation for wetlands and the need to conserve them.

What impact does Ducks Unlimited Canada make on the Canadian Prairies, especially in our area?
DUC is the leader in wetland conservation. Since 1938, DUC has tallied more than 2.3 million conservation acres in Alberta, which includes more than 1.15 million acres that were restored. Last year alone, DUC restored 21,162 acres in Alberta. As our province continues to grow and economic pressures lead to more development, wetlands will be threatened even more, which will be detrimental to all Albertans, in both rural and urban areas. Our progress in the province remains steady. In the Peace Region, our work focuses primarily on tending to existing conservation projects in partnership with landowners. These projects offer habitat to many wildlife species.

How do wetland ecosystems function in relation to different levels of agricultural activity?
Wetlands have an important place on the landscape and support agriculture in several ways. For these reasons, DUC has refined our conservation programs so that farmers are able to meet shared goals in relation to sustainability and sound land management. Wetlands “beef up” the environment. Land used for cattle production benefits grasslands, wetlands, healthy soils and biodiversity. Cows and ducks both need grass and water to survive. They use the same habitat and co-exist. Wetlands and grassland used by cattle ranchers sequester carbon, reducing the impacts on climate change while keeping soil healthy. It provides a source of feed and stock water. As well, land used to raise cattle is home to thousands of species of wildlife and many species at risk.

In Alberta, DUC is very strategic with its landowner programs and its partnerships with farmers and ranchers. Our Revolving Land Conservation Program (RLCP) is a good example. Land in this program is purchased from a landowner, wetland and upland areas are restored, and then it’s sold back to the agriculture community with a conservation easement on the title. RLCP land can be used for grazing or haying, which supports agriculture. Other programs that benefit farmers include the hay/graze tender program, wetland restoration lease program, forage program, and conservation easements.

Can you talk a bit about Ducks Unlimited Canada’s Marsh Keepers volunteer program?
DUC Marsh Keepers are volunteers who help us keep a watchful eye on our conservation projects. They often do bird counts or site inspections. Through their submitted reports, they let our staff know if there are any issues on a project that need attention.

Can you explain what a Prairie Pothole Region is?
During the last ice age, glaciers scraped across North America. When the ice melted, millions of shallow pools were left behind. These “pothole” wetlands took tens of thousands of years to form naturally and lie in the area now known as the Prairie Pothole Region, which spans southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It also extends into North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Montana. The number of potholes fluctuates from two million to eight million, depending on seasonal moisture levels.

Pothole wetlands are just as important for our own well-being. They help keep our water clean. They help regulate water levels in times of flooding and drought. They provide us with natural places to enjoy. While the Peace Country is not part of the Prairie Pothole region, conservation projects that protect other wetlands and other wildlife habitat are also important and provide environmental benefits.

Approximately how many of those can be found in Northern Alberta?
Pothole wetlands continue to be destroyed. In North America, we have lost up to 70% of prairie wetlands in some areas. We need to act now to conserve and improve upon what we have left.

What life can be found in a Prairie Pothole Region?
These are some of the best waterfowl breeding grounds on the planet. The region’s wetlands and grasslands also provide essential habitat for hundreds of other species – including more than 50 at-risk species.

Some people believe Canada Geese are pests. Do they play an important role in our ecosystems?
Populations of Canada Geese are doing well, and while some people perceive them as pests, they do have a role in the ecosystem. Canada Geese help biodiversity. When waterfowl, including Canada Geese, visit a wetland habitat, they help establish and support plant, invertebrate, amphibian and fish species. In the face of climate change, waterbirds can help wetland species shift their range. As conditions get warmer, waterfowl can help other species expand northward to climates where they can continue to be successful. It also helps keep a species’ gene pool diverse, making it easier for species to avoid inbreeding and adapt to changing environments. Having many types of genes gives species a stronger toolkit for facing adversity. Notorious for providing top-notch security detail, Canada Geese staunchly protect their nests and goslings during nesting season. This aggression can benefit other birds nesting nearby, keeping predators and people at a safe distance. This helps the survival of all young birds regardless of species.

How can the public best help Ducks Unlimited Canada?
The best way for the public to support DUC is by taking part in our landowner conservation programs and with financial support. While in-person and group fundraising events have been postponed due to COVID-19, there are ways to take part in fundraising activities online.

Online Resources:

Annual population bird studies

School programs for kids


  • Address: #224 9804 – 100 Ave., Grande Prairie, AB T8V 0T8
  • Phone: (780) 532-7960
  • Web: www.ducks.ca