The boreal forest has always been a bastion for waterfowl, but dramatic changes in land use and climate now threaten this region’s fragile wetlands
By Matt Young
Where do the ducks come from?” Throughout history, hunters have asked this question as they ponder the origins of waterfowl that arrive each autumn on the north winds. While many hunters are aware of the huge contribution the prairies make to the fall flight, they might be surprised to know how many of the birds they hunt are actually raised farther north—in the vast boreal forest of Canada and Alaska.
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This immense region’s countless glacial lakes, bogs, beaver ponds, and other wetlands produce almost as many waterfowl as the prairies, earning the boreal forest the well-deserved nickname, “the other duck factory.” In fact, most of North America’s geese and the majority of several species of ducks including scaup, wigeon, green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, and scoters are raised in the boreal forest and the Arctic. These northern regions also support a significant portion of the continent’s breeding mallards, pintails, and canvasbacks, as well as large numbers of molting waterfowl.
“Northern wetlands are vital to waterfowl populations in many ways,” says Dr. Fritz Reid, director of conservation planning at DU’s Western Regional Office in Sacramento, California. “These habitats not only support millions of breeding and molting waterfowl every year but also offer refuge for large numbers of drought-displaced waterfowl when the prairies are dry. By some estimates, 75 percent of North America’s ducks depend on wetlands in the boreal forest at some time during their life cycle.”
While much of the Arctic remains relatively untouched by people, the boreal forest is experiencing a dramatic increase in many forms of natural resources development. The rapid expansion of forestry, oil and gas production, mining, hydroelectric development, and agriculture impacts millions of acres across the boreal forest every year. During the next few decades, these and other forms of development could alter more than 30 percent of the entire region.