Directing the flow: Migratory waterfowl, scale, and mobilityin Western North America

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Abstract

In the fall of 1946, thousands of ducks and geese descended into the Klamath Basin. Straddling the Oregon-California border, the basin funnels the different flight paths that migratory waterfowl follow, bringing up to seven million birds together at one time in the basin's marshes. During the previous four decades, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had drained most of the wetlands in the basin. Two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) refuges, Lower Klamath Refuge and Tule Lake Refuge, contained the few remaining marshes that once blanketed the area. The Bureau of Reclamation had converted parts of the lakebeds into homesteads, many for World War I and World War II veterans. Hence, the birds flew into a landscape of wetlands surrounded by grain farms. The FWS's waterfowl-herding effort was one small part of the agency's response to a continuing challenge-a challenge that has significant implications for environmental history. Unlike other land management agencies in the western United States such as the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service, the FWS managed highly mobile resources. Many of the birds it managed bred in Alaska, migrated across the ocean or parts of Canada, and wintered in California. Some even continued on to Mexico. The agency had to take into account the ecological needs of birds; waterfowl needed ample food and resting space to survive. Yet the FWS had to consider more than just the habitat requirements of waterfowl. It also had to direct the birds through a disputed and changing human geography along the length of the birds' migration route by balancing the demands of farmers trying to protect their crops and of hunters seeking birds for sport. In the pages that follow, I explore how the FWS worked between scales in its efforts to protect migratory waterfowl. I divide my discussion by the principle scales at which the FWS worked: the continental, the regional, and the local. The boundaries between these scales are not rigid, but the division is necessary tO provide a sense of how decisions and ecological conditions at one scale affected other scales. The efforts of the FWS, and the Canadian Wildlife Service to the north, were one of the first attempts by any resource agency to manage species on a transnational scale. Often the FWS's attempts to manage the continent's ducks and geese as a waterfowl production system faltered due to local opposition by farmers who were intolerant of birds trespassing in their fields. To manage migratory waterfowl, the FWS had to mediate between scales to deal with the many threats migratory waterfowl faced. My history of FWS migratory waterfowl management also shows that some environmental histories require a narrative that addresses more than one scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-266
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironmental History
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2002
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)

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