New York private land projects expand sweet spots for ducks

“It’s about expanding the footprint.”

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Ducks Unlimited engineers and contractors review conservation plans on Jim Zaepfel’s New York property.

During their long migration routes, waterfowl in flight look for land and water that give them the best food and shelter. 

Large, public land wetland complexes are easy to see and attract a lot of ducks and geese. Because of the increasing need to provide healthy habitat, Ducks Unlimited often works to restore wetlands on private lands adjacent to existing wetland areas.

“It’s about expanding the footprint,” said Brandy Neveldine, Ducks Unlimited regional biologist in New York. “By restoring private land that is adjacent to a complex, we can provide a better-connected landscape for birds as they move in this migratory corridor.”

In that Atlantic Flyway migration corridor, Ducks Unlimited worked this summer  with two private landowners on restoring critical habitat near the Tonawanda-Iroquois-Oak Orchard Wetland complex, which supports the highest concentrations of migratory birds in western New York. DU also worked with a landowner on a restoration project in the St. Lawrence Valley area, one of the most important habitats for waterfowl and grassland birds in the Eastern United States.

The projects are restoring nearly 150 acres of wetland habitat. One of those landowners, Jim Zaepfel, is excited about a portion of his land returning to a more natural state.

“It’s been farmed for many, many years,” he said. “But it’s in a flood-prone area and every year you’re not sure if you’re going to get anything from it.”

Zaepfel decided to return it to habitat that benefits ducks, other wildlife and people.

“Marshes are enjoyable,” he said. “They are beautiful to look at, and bring more life to your back yard.”

Most of the land in New York is privately held and Ducks Unlimited partners with landowners to enhance, protect or restore important tracts of waterfowl habitat. These three restoration projects will be completed this year. 

All projects were funded by North American Wetlands Conservation Act, with support from Thousand Islands Land Trust, Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and private landowners.