At no other time are the wetlands of the western boreal forest more important to waterfowl than during periods of severe drought on the prairies and parklands. "Water levels are far more stable in the north, providing breeding waterfowl with a reliable wetland habitat base year after year," says former DU Chief Biologist Dr. Bruce Batt. "When the prairies and parklands are dry, as they often are, the waterfowl produced in the western boreal forest help sustain waterfowl populations at levels that can support hunting. The region also provides secure habitat for millions of drought displaced waterfowl from the prairies, which survive to breed again in future years when habitat conditions on the prairies are more favorable."
Until recently, the western boreal forest-known simply as "the bush" to most north country residents-remained largely a pristine wilderness. Rising demand for natural resources, however, has spurred a dramatic increase in forestry, oil and gas production, mining, hydroelectric development, and agricultural activity in the region, potentially threatening its wetlands and waterfowl populations.
In response, Ducks Unlimited has joined the U.S. Forest Service, Pew Charitable Trusts, and many other partners in an ambitious new conservation initiative to study and preserve wildlife habitats in the region.
In accordance with the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, the initiative's primary objective is to sustain waterfowl breeding populations in the region at levels that occurred there in the 1970s.
In May 1998, I received a duck's-eye view of the western boreal forest while flying with Fred Roetker, a pilot-biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) who surveys breeding waterfowl across the bush of northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
I rendezvoused with Roetker and his partner, USFWS biologist Ben Mense, at a marina in LaRonge, Saskatchewan, where they had stopped to refuel their floatplane and take on supplies for another extended junket in the bush.