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The Other Duck Factory

The vast western boreal forest of Canada and Alaska rivals the prairies in its importance to breeding waterfowl.
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  • photo by Garth Lenz
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by Matt Young 

The Prairie Pothole Region of the United States and Canada has long been recognized as North America's most important waterfowl breeding area. And for good reason. During wet years, the prairies and neighboring parklands typically support more than half of the continent's breeding ducks.

In areas where both water and upland cover are abundant, such as wetland-rich landscapes in the Great Plains states that have been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), duck production can be phenomenal.

While the prairies hold center stage as North America's duck factory, the vast region to the north-the western boreal forest-ranks a close second in its importance to breeding waterfowl. Spreading northward from the fringes of the aspen parklands to the Arctic tundra, this vast swath of softwood forest spans 1.8 million square miles across northern Canada and central Alaska.

The region's extensive and diverse wetlands support an average of more than 13 million breeding ducks-up to 40 percent of those inventoried in the traditionally surveyed area-including the majority of lesser scaup, wigeon, green-winged teal, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, goldeneyes, and scoters.

The region is also a major breeding area for mallards, pintails, blue-winged teal, canvasbacks, and Canada and white-fronted geese. In total, 23 species of ducks, geese, and swans exist in the region.

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