Ducks Unlimited Bakken Prairie Research Begins

Researchers studied waterfowl productivity in the busy oil patch

Ducks Unlimited technicians surveyed duck pairs on wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) area of the Bakken oil field in northwest North Dakota and northeast Montana. During the three-year study, technicians surveyed pairs on 4,000 wetland basins on 62 study plots. A later duck brood study added two more study plots.

"Energy development and the growth of associated infrastructure in the Bakken have increased exponentially since 2010. However, the potential impacts of this rapid development on waterfowl populations are poorly understood," says Kaylan Carrlson, DU manager of conservation planning for the Great Plains Region. "This study will remedy that knowledge gap by investigating whether waterfowl productivity is being affected by oil and gas development within the overlap area of the PPR and the Bakken."  

DU and partners completed a pilot brood survey in 2014 on more than 2,000 basins on 30 study plots across a spectrum of oil and gas development intensity levels. The group expanded the sample size this year to fully address the relationship of oil and gas development and waterfowl productivity. 

Partners involved in this study are the Prairie Pothole Joint Venture, the N.D. Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Region 6 Habitat and Population Evaluation Team, and the Central Flyway Council.

Nearly one-third of the PPR overlaps with the Bakken geological shale formation, which is experiencing rapid rates of oil and gas development. Despite the importance of this area to breeding waterfowl and the rapid infrastructure development, very little research is currently investigating how birds' productivity rates are responding, resulting in little science-based information available to facilitate effective conservation targeting decisions.