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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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Dr. Bruce Batt, DU's chief waterfowl biologist, adds, "We know the breeding ground landscapes can produce record fall flights without predator control. We saw this as recently as four years ago. In 2001 and 2002, much of the continent's 'Duck Factory' was drier than normal and, consequently, duck numbers declined. When water returned to the prairies in 2003, duck numbers rebounded substantially. The most important things we can do involve protecting, maintaining, and restoring as much of the existing waterfowl habitats as we possibly can while that remains an option. It's the only way we will avoid a situation where killing predators, closing the hunting season, and similar 'last ditch' tactics are all we have left—and, if we ever get to that point, we will have lost.

"The cumulative gains in habitat conservation are really what count," Batt continues, "and are why duck populations are in pretty good shape, in view of all the things that have happened in their environment that should logically have prevented the recent recovery. For example, when duck stamp funds were first applied to protecting breeding habitat in North Dakota with perpetual-protection easements a few decades ago, progress was indeed slow in comparison to the number of wetlands that begged for conservation. Now we have a legacy of 1.5 million acres of breeding habitat permanently secured by these U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service easements, habitat that is fundamental to the future of waterfowl conservation in that critical region of the prairie breeding grounds. Fill in the spaces with Waterfowl Production Areas, grassland protected by the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for nesting, and habitat restored and protected by private landowners, DU, the states, the provinces, the federal government, corporations, and others and we have the basis for the excellent waterfowl populations we've enjoyed over the last decade. If those duck stamp dollars would have been spent killing predators, we would not be able to tell one of the greatest waterfowl conservation stories in history."

"DU welcomes all players," Wentz says, "and we are especially pleased that so many other partners have become involved in waterfowl habitat conservation. There are numerous state waterfowl associations that share our interest in habitat conservation for waterfowl. Other major conservation groups are interested in other wildlife, and they also recognize the importance of waterfowl habitat and are working hard to protect wetlands and other habitat that serve their needs and those of waterfowl. Today, we also have the greatest involvement ever by private landowners, and state, provincial, and federal agencies in wetlands conservation. They are supported by good legislation such as the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and unprecedented international agreements such as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. With its myriad partners interested in habitat conservation, DU can leverage dollars multiple times to put even more habitat on the ground. The same cannot be said for predator control.

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