True to their nature, waterfowlers are doing their part to preserve the rich wetland resources of the Platte and the traditions that surround them. Ducks Unlimited is assisting their efforts and those of other conservation partners through its Platte River Initiative. DU is assisting landowners in their desires to leave a legacy to future generations through conservation easements that protect wetlands and the water sources that feed them. Working in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wetland Reserve Program, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Wildlife Program, the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, DU biologists and engineers are helping to restore some of the seasonal wetlands and backwater channels that have been lost from the river's floodplain.
Many of these restorations employ state-of-the-art water delivery systems that utilize available water in a very efficient manner and return flows to the river channel during the lean summer months when channel water is at a premium. DU wetland managers contracted by entities such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife and private landowners are working to ensure that protected and restored wetlands are producing increased food resources for migrating waterfowl to supplement waste grain in their diets.
Protecting the wetland and water resources of the Platte River alone will not sustain the waterfowl migrations to the river and the rich heritage that surrounds them. Band returns have shown that waterfowl harvested on the Platte are produced throughout the Great Plains with the most important source being the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of the United States and Canada. If you hunt the Platte, the chances are good that the PPR is supplying many, if not most, of the birds you enjoy each fall and winter. The science is clear that in order to maintain Platte River waterfowl populations, we also have to secure the wetlands and grasslands of the prairies that are producing migratory birds each year. As momentum for preserving the Platte River builds, more landowners are embracing this dual conservation need: to protect the wetlands of the river and the prairie breeding grounds that feed them (see sidebar).
As we advance into the 21st century, the pressures on the water and habitats of the Platte will surely grow. But with challenges come opportunities. Most of the current landowners and conservation partners along the Platte share DU's passion for the river's wetland and waterfowl resources. By working diligently together, we can help ensure that one of America's greatest waterfowl travel corridors is preserved for our continued enjoyment and that of future generations.
Dr. Steve Adair is director of conservation programs at DU's Great Plains office in Bismarck, North Dakota.