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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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After giving me a quick briefing on the safety features of the aircraft, Roetker taxied the single-engine Cessna 185 onto the open waters of the lake, and soon we were skimming across the waves with the throttle down.

Turning westward upon take-off, we quickly left civilization behind. Stretching before us lay mile upon mile of unbroken spruce and aspen forest, interspersed with sparkling lakes and serpentine river systems.

As we approached productive wetland habitats, Roetker brought the plane down almost to treetop height, simulating a waterfowl survey flight. At such a low altitude, I could clearly see lone drakes, bachelor flocks, and pairs of several different duck species scattered in marshy coves, backwater sloughs, and beaver ponds adjoining lakes and streams.

Mallards, wigeon, lesser scaup, and green-winged teal were the most numerous species, but we also saw pintails, gadwalls, blue-winged teal, shovelers, canvasbacks, ring-necked ducks, common goldeneyes, and several other species of waterbirds.

"Although large portions of the western boreal forest have little waterfowl habitat value, the region contains a wealth of highly productive wetland complexes, meandering river valley floodplains, and some of the largest inland river deltas in the world," says Dr. Fritz Reid, director of conservation planning for DU's Western Regional Office. "These wetland systems support large numbers of breeding waterfowl, which collectively make a significant contribution to the continental fall flight."

While flying back to LaRonge, I witnessed a dramatic example of the natural resource development that is rapidly transforming vast areas of the western boreal forest. Below us, miles of new logging roads connected networks of clear-cuts where thousands of acres of forest surrounding marshes and streams had been harvested.

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