Once the most productive landscapes for breeding waterfowl have been identified, it’s vital to understand how land use is likely to affect these landscapes in the future. Changing demand for agricultural commodities is a driving force behind landscape change in the PPR. When demand for commodities increases, shallow wetlands are filled and drained, native grasslands are plowed under, and restored grasslands on marginal soils are returned to production. Then, as commodity production meets and exceeds demand, restoration of grasslands and wetlands increases. Waterfowl habitat can rarely be restored to its original productivity, however, after landscapes have been altered.
Using waterfowl survey data and landscape mapping tools, DU has identified certain landscape characteristics in the PPR where grasslands and wetlands are at greatest risk of conversion to cropland. Flatter, more fertile grasslands on landscapes with greater amounts of existing cropland tend to be at greater risk of conversion to cropland. Wetlands embedded in existing crop fields are more likely to be drained than wetlands in pastures or restored grasslands. These landscape characteristics have allowed DU to identify the productive habitat that is at greatest risk of loss.
Another consideration for waterfowl conservationists is the cost of protecting habitat. DU and its partners simply don’t have the funding to protect every acre of good waterfowl habitat in the short term. Consequently, knowing the “going rate” for habitat protection (either by purchasing grassland easements or through direct acquisition) is required to identify conservation “bargains” where highly productive habitat that is at high risk of loss can be protected for a relatively low price.