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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Prairies Under Siege: Ducks, Habitat Conservation & Predators

A closer look at large-scale predator-control programs reveals that they are counterproductive to the long-term benefits of waterfowl and waterfowl hunters
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Conserving habitat is the para-mount priority that is supported by everybody—even the most ardent advocates of predator control—involved in waterfowl conservation (indeed, in all wildlife conservation). President Tomke reflected, "It only makes sense that DU came to the conclusion that it must continue to focus on this mandate. We know this is the right path to assuring that we have enough places for waterfowl to live in large numbers that will provide for the enjoyment of today's hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts, as well as their children and grandchildren."

DU has been dedicated to habitat conservation for waterfowl throughout its history. The task ahead is different, but just as daunting, as it was in 1937 when DU was founded. Waterfowl habitat is under relentless siege everywhere, but probably nowhere more than on the prairie breeding grounds that produce from 50 to 75 percent of North America's hunted duck species.

The threats are mostly driven by the intensification of farming and changes in wetlands protection policies. Work on these issues has never been more important than it is right now—the future of waterfowl populations and waterfowl hunting hang in the balance. It is absolutely crucial that funds that support habitat conservation work are not siphoned away to support practices such as large-scale predator control that do not contribute to solving these critical issues. If other parties want to secure additional, separate funding to carry out predator control, let them do so. There's room for everybody with a fervent desire to help waterfowl in this world. However, given the finite financial resources that can be directed toward securing waterfowl breeding habitat in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) and elsewhere, it is surely, intuitively obvious that these precious monetary resources must not be diminished. In fact, just the opposite is true: They need to be greatly increased. We are losing wetlands in the United States (and in Canada) at an alarming rate of more than 100,000 acres per year, and, on top of that, upland nesting cover is also under increasing pressure as the agricultural sector seeks to maintain financial viability in the face of the difficult realities of world markets.

According to Dr. Alan Wentz, DU's group manager for conservation programs, "We cannot afford continued habitat loss or we will not be able to sustain waterfowl populations over the long term. We have been fortunate that, despite ongoing losses of habitat, most prairie waterfowl populations are in better shape than they have been since we began surveying breeding birds in the 1950s. With only a couple of exceptions, North America's ducks and geese are at or above the goals of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. Between 1994 and 1999, duck numbers increased by 69 percent after water returned to core breeding areas. This occurred in the complete absence of predator control, proving again that when moisture is plentiful and there is sufficient wetland and upland habitat, duck production overwhelms duck predation. Some species have never been more numerous since breeding records and surveys began in 1955. Quite simply, current programs emphasizing habitat are working and must be continued."

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