Our Beginnings

Cooperation among nations sharing the wildlife resources of North America began August 16, 1916, when representatives of Great Britain (representing Canada) and the United States signed the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds. That treaty, still in effect, was in response to decreasing migratory bird populations resulting from unregulated harvest for meat, plumage and other purposes. International cooperation for the protection of migratory birds was expanded when the United States engaged in similar treaties with Mexico (1936), Japan (1972) and the USSR (1978). Despite the recovery of many populations of migratory birds due to international cooperation, species are still declining.

A Foundation in Waterfowl Management

Concern over decreasing populations of ducks fostered completion of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, which was signed in May 1986 by the Canadian Minister of the Environment and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. Mexico became a partner by a Tripartite Agreement signed in March 1988 by directors of the three federal wildlife agencies. The management plan is a policy statement of three nations undertaking, among other purposes, the restoration and maintenance of abundant populations of waterfowl in North America.

The plan identified large geographical regions of North America where wetlands are especially critical to waterfowl and other wetland-dependant wildlife. It recommended that migratory bird joint ventures be formed in those areas of high priority as a means for governments, organizations and individuals to cooperate in the planning, funding and implementation of projects to conserve wetlands and their associated habitats.

One of these areas was the original Playa Lakes Region — which included portions of southeastern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, eastern New Mexico, western Oklahoma and northwestern Texas — with a concept plan completed in August 1988. The Playa Lakes Joint Venture (PLJV) was conditionally approved in October 1988 and began operating in 1989 as the seventh officially recognized habitat joint venture in North America. Today, the PLJV regional boundary is largely congruent with the shortgrass and mixed-grass Bird Conservation Regions 18 and 19, covering about 300,000 square miles in a six-state region.

Broadening the Joint Venture Vision

Conservationists concerned about other migratory and resident bird groups—landbirds, shorebirds and waterbirds—saw the success of the NAWMP model and adopted it as they developed conservation strategies for their species of concern. Authors of the North American Landbird Conservation Plan, U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan, North American Waterbird Conservation Plan and other national and continental bird plans, rather than reinvent the wheel, looked to Joint Ventures to help implement their plans. The PLJV has thus integrated the conservation of all birds into its planning and habitat delivery processes.

From the long-established Joint Ventures to those in various stages of development, there are nearly two dozen such partnerships at work across the continental landscape. In addition, three species-specific Joint Ventures are addressing the needs of the Black Duck, Arctic geese, and sea ducks throughout their international ranges. As of 2011, Joint Ventures have invested $5 billion to conserve 17.3 million acres of critical habitat.