Conservation: DU's Wings and Wetlands Initiative

Restoring waterfowl habitat on diverse landscapes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho

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By Devin Blankenship

The Pacific Northwest encompasses some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes in North America, including vast forests, soaring mountains, broad river valleys, fertile farmland, and productive estuaries. This breathtaking region, spanning Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, supports millions of migrating and wintering ducks, geese, and swans that follow the Pacific Flyway. Sadly, the Pacific Northwest has lost many of its historical wetlands, and much of its remaining waterfowl habitat is now threatened by human population growth, drought, and increasing demand for limited water supplies. From Puget Sound, which has experienced more than 80 percent wetland loss, to the Southern Oregon−Northeastern California (SONEC) region, which serves as a vital staging area for northern pintails and other waterfowl, to the extensive floodplains and marshes of the upper Snake River basin of eastern Idaho, wetlands across the Pacific Northwest face an uncertain future.

In response, Ducks Unlimited launched its Wings and Wetlands Initiative to conserve the Pacific Northwest's most important wetlands and other waterfowl habitats. Working with private landowners, Native American tribes, and government agencies, DU is delivering wetland restoration, enhancement, and protection projects throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In addition, DU is implementing strategies to offset coastal habitat losses in important waterfowl migration and wintering areas, and addressing water shortages on flood-irrigated agricultural lands to ensure that these important waterfowl habitats are maintained.

DU and its partners have already made good progress in this region. For example, the Clark Fork River Delta has been designated by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) as one of the most important wetland systems in the state.

The delta lost more than 600 acres of wetlands to erosion following the construction of Albeni Falls Dam, which was completed in 1955. Despite these losses, the area continues to provide important food resources and resting habitat for thousands of waterfowl during the fall and spring migrations. DU and the IDFG recently completed the first phase of a major wetland restoration project in the delta, employing heavy construction equipment to move nearly 300,000 cubic yards of earth and rock to raise and protect portions of two islands. Rock weirs and breakwaters were constructed along exposed shoreline areas, and local volunteers helped plant more than 90,000 trees and shrubs to provide habitat for fish and wildlife.

In the Evergreen State, DU is currently working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to enhance more than 200 acres on the Samish Unit of the Skagit Wildlife Area by upgrading infrastructure and improving water-delivery capabilities. With funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and a WDFW duck stamp grant, this project will give managers the ability to mimic the natural hydrology of seasonal wetland habitat that historically occurred on portions of this landscape. The restored wetlands, augmented with cereal grains planted on other portions of the unit, will benefit a variety of waterfowl and shorebird species during the migration and wintering periods. In addition, this project will provide improved waterfowl hunting opportunities on the Samish Unit, which is among the most popular public hunting areas in the north Puget Sound area.

A magnificent diversity of awe-inspiring landscapes is the hallmark of America's Pacific Northwest. Residents treasure their natural heritage, including hunting and other forms of outdoor recreation as well as healthy wetlands and clean water. But these precious natural resources need your help. By contributing to DU's Wings and Wetlands Initiative, you will be supporting important waterfowl habitat conservation in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. In addition, your contribution will help protect vital waterfowl breeding habitat in the Western Boreal Forest and Prairie Pothole Region, where the majority of Pacific Flyway waterfowl are produced. For more information on how you can support this and other DU initiatives, visit ducks.org/DUinitiatives.

Devin Blankenship is a communications specialist in DU's Western Region.