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Potholes in Peril

New threats to prairie wetlands could mean big trouble for duck populations
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  • photo by Scott Stephens, DUC
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Landowners who drain wetlands in violation of Swampbuster risk losing Farm Bill commodity payments. But these payments are either being phased out or have become irrelevant because of high commodity prices. 

Other Farm Bill programs that were once linked to wetland protection, such as crop insurance, are no longer coupled with conservation compliance provisions. Among waterfowl managers, concern over weakened wetland protections has leapfrogged ahead of all other issues. 

On the Canadian side of the Prairie Pothole Region, wetland drainage continues to be the greatest threat to healthy fall flights of ducks. In Canada, the jurisdiction for wetland protection resides at the provincial level. Unfortunately, the three prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta don't have conservation policies that provide strong protection for wetlands. The result is that thousands of prairie potholes continue to be drained each year, impacting not only ducks but also other wildlife and people. This issue is a high priority for DU Canada, which is working with provincial governments and other partners to develop policies to protect prairie wetlands. 

In this country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 1.4 million small wetlands are at high risk of drainage in the eastern Dakotas, an especially important waterfowl breeding area. If these wetlands are lost, biologists predict that breeding duck numbers in this region could decline by an estimated 2.9 million birds (37 percent). Included in these calculations is a potential loss of more than 700,000 breeding mallards a year. 

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