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The Science Behind the Living Lakes Initiative

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Minnesota is a diverse state but the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota is extremely degraded. In addition, Iowa's PPR has little waterfowl habitat left. In both states there is a huge challenge to restore wetland and grassland habitat. Shallow lakes are the cornerstones of the remaining waterfowl habitat in the PPR of the two states. To strategically deliver habitat conservation to obtain the maximum benefit for continental waterfowl populations, Ducks Unlimited has refined the focus of its work in Minnesota and Iowa to improve and protect those shallow lakes and their watersheds.

Over the past several decades, waterfowl have been noticeably absent from traditional staging lakes in Minnesota and Iowa during both fall and spring migrations despite the recovery of continental populations during the last decade. Lesser scaup, or bluebills, in particular have been a species that has continued to decline while most other species recovered during the '90s and early 2000s. Recent research has demonstrated that lesser scaup migrating through Iowa and Minnesota are in poorer body condition as a result of degraded lakes throughout the area. This documented deterioration of aquatic food resources is a likely explanation for declines in many waterfowl species on the traditionally important staging lakes in Minnesota and Iowa. Disturbance from boat traffic or housing development on lakes can also make quality habitat functionally unavailable to birds during migration if they are continually run off by a human presence. DU's work will improve and protect these important lakes to provide optimum habitat conditions for migrating waterfowl.

Conservation efforts to improve habitat quality are focused on improving water clarity in shallow lakes through a variety of techniques from fish removal to the installation of water control structures that facilitate drawdowns of the wetland. The goal is to improve water quality, which in turn improves the availability of both aquatic invertebrates and aquatic plants that serve as critical food resources for migrating birds. Protection of lake shores from housing development via conservation easements is also an important strategy which seeks to limit the disturbance of ducks during the migration period.

DU is working with numerous public partners such as the Minnesota and Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and landowners to establish stepping stones of perpetually protected and productive wetland complexes. These habitat complexes will provide waterfowl with the necessary resources as they travel across this vast landscape each spring and fall. DU is using cutting-edge Geographic Information Systems models combined with the expert knowledge of wetland managers to locate areas that yield the highest return for our conservation investment. This will ensure that each dollar is maximized for the waterfowl and wetland resource.

To accomplish Living Lakes Initiative goals, DU is focusing on six priority conservation strategies.

  1. Restoring previously drained shallow lakes and large wetlands;
  2. Improving degraded shallow lakes through enhancement and management treatments;
  3. Restoring small wetlands and prairie habitats around shallow lakes;
  4. Securing conservation easements to protect undeveloped shallow lake shorelines;
  5. Influence public policy decisions on key state and federal issues facing waterfowl habitats;
  6. Conducting research and monitoring efforts to prioritize and focus our limited resources.
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