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WETLANDS DECLINE IN DUCK FACTORY
According to a new report, wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region
declined by an estimated 74,340 acres between 1997 and 2009 – an average
annual net loss of 6,200 acres.
“Extreme weather patterns, rising agricultural commodity prices and oil
and gas development are threatening millions of acres of prairie
wetlands, putting further pressure on the most valuable breeding area
for ducks in the Americas,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director
Dan Ashe. “This report highlights the need for continued vigilance in
monitoring and protecting the Prairie Pothole Region to ensure it
remains healthy for waterfowl for generations to come.”
The U.S. portion of the Prairie Pothole Region includes parts of
Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Approximately
118 million acres of land, 21 million acres of grass cover and 2.63
million wetland basins support more than 300 species of migrating and
Termed America’s “duck factory,” this formerly glaciated landscape is
the most productive area for nesting waterfowl on the continent, perhaps
the world. The region also provides stopover habitat for migratory
waterfowl, shorebirds, waterbirds and songbirds.
“Unfortunately, the price of the Duck Stamp has remained flat since 1991
reducing its purchasing power to the lowest level in its 80 year
history,”said Ashe. “The losses in the Prairie Pothole Region reinforce
the pressing need for changes in legislation. We look forward to working
with Congress to enact an increase in the Duck Stamp price so we can set
aside more key habitat in this critical waterfowl production region.”
FALL FLIGHT LOOKS GOOD…DUCK NUMBERS UP
Every year about this time waterfowlers are sweating it out while
thinking about cold frosty mornings when season arrives. In early July
each year biologists release a fall flight forecast that sort of paves
the way for the upcoming season and it appears the news is good.
According to Delta Waterfowl North America’s spring duck population is
at a record level, and the birds returned to find a high number of ponds
on the breeding grounds, according to the 2014 Waterfowl Breeding
Population and Habitat Survey released last week.
The annual spring survey, which has been conducted jointly by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service since 1955, puts
the breeding duck population at 49.2 million, surpassing the previous
high set in 2012 and 8 percent ahead of the 2013 estimate.
In addition to record breeding duck numbers, more good news lies in
continued wet conditions. Most of the Prairie Pothole Region, which
encompasses much of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Dakotas and
Eastern Montana, is very wet. The May pond count, which registered a
soaking-wet 7.18 million, is 40 percent above the long-term average.
Better still, many prime duck production areas are even wetter today
than when the survey was conducted. That’s unusual. Most years,
temporary seasonal wetlands begin drying out by June. The one notable
dry spot was eastern South Dakota.
“Exceptional water this year will lead to high duck production,” said
Dr. Frank Rohwer, president of Delta Waterfowl. “When the prairies are
really wet, ducks settle in the best quality habitat. Hens will nest and
renest vigorously, and duckling survival will be high.”
Breeding mallards (10.9 million) and gadwalls (3.81 million) are at the
second-highest levels in the history of the survey. Green-winged teal
(3.44 million) and blue-winged teal (8.54 million) came in at the
third-highest tallies since 1955, while shovelers (5.28 million) and
redheads (1.28 million) are at record-high breeding population levels.
Wigeon increased 18 percent to 3.11 million, while scaup added 11
percent to 4.6 million. Wigeon are now 20 percent above the long-term
average, which is notable given concerns over a declining population
trend in the 1990s and 2000s.
Of the 10 key survey species, only pintails and canvasbacks declined.
Pintails dropped by 3 percent to 3.22 million, while canvasbacks were
down 13 percent, registering at 685,000.
Strong breeding duck numbers and very good water conditions should
translate to more ducks in the fall flight, but it’s still not a
guarantee of more birds over every duck hunter’s decoys this season.
Local conditions during duck season always have a huge impact on hunting
“We know that when breeding duck numbers are high and duck production is
strong, hunters shoot more ducks,” Rohwer said. “However, three other
factors are probably as important as the breeding duck count. Weather is
most critical, because that drives duck migrations. The site conditions
such as food and available water at your honey hole impacts hunting
success, as does the amount of hunting pressure.”
Still, considering the high duck index and excellent water, the many
millions of ducks will be out there this season, somewhere in North
“Rejoice in the great breeding pair counts,” Rohwer said. “Better yet,
rejoice in the good May pond counts and continued good water conditions.
Duck production is likely going to be off the charts. But don’t count
your ducks in the bag until the weather and conditions bring you
Tennessee duck hunters won’t know specific season dates until late
August when the wildlife commission meets in Jackson.