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Secrets to Success

DU has discovered a wealth of new information about what drives duck production on the prairies
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  • Graduate studies sponsored by DU provide training for aspiring waterfowl scientists.
    photo by Scott Stephens, DU
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Putting Science into Practice

Research helps DU measure the effectiveness of the suite of conservation actions that we employ on the prairie landscape. Protection and restoration of wetland and grassland habitats important to ducks are DU's highest priorities on both sides of the border. That's a huge job and requires a diverse mix of approaches guided by sound science. We use direct programs like conservation easements or grassland and wetland restorations to conserve habitat incrementally. Policy efforts that can result in extensive, landscape-level impacts over a shorter time frame are also important. The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) in the United States is a prime example of a DU-supported government policy that has had a positive effect on waterfowl populations in the PPR. Scientific knowledge has helped DU and its partners repeatedly argue in favor of CRP extensions and reenrollments in the PPR. Extensive, long-term research into relationships between duck populations and their habitats provides the crucial information base needed to guide current and future conservation policies across the prairies and beyond.

Another important benefit of these studies is that they allow DU scientists to develop powerful computer-based tools to plan future conservation actions. These tools allow us to incorporate the best scientific information available to target landscapes and design a mix of conservation programs that will accomplish our objectives in the most cost-efficient manner. Planning tools developed to guide waterfowl conservation on the prairies have become a model for bird conservation throughout North America. These tools make it possible for conservation planners to visualize the extent of existing habitat, identify opportunities for habitat restoration, and prioritize alternative actions. To be most useful, these tools require constant adaptation as the threats to waterfowl populations and their habitats change over time. Waterfowl conservation strategies must also change in response through a continuous process of implementation, evaluation, and adaptation.  

The greatest long-term threat to prairie duck populations has historically been conversion of grasslands and wetlands to agricultural production. Given growing demand for food and fuel, agricultural intensification remains a concern for prairie ducks, but a relatively new concern is widespread, intensive energy development driven by rising demand for oil and electricity. Wind farms have become increasingly common on the prairie landscape in recent years. And while wind energy is generally viewed as a “green” energy source, the effect of wind towers on grassland-nesting birds—including ducks—is uncertain. 

To help answer these questions, DU and partners have initiated research to investigate whether wind farms affect settling of breeding ducks on nearby wetlands and whether direct mortality of ducks striking wind turbines is a concern. Analyses are ongoing, but preliminary results indicate that in the first three years of operation the impact of wind towers on breeding ducks is probably less negative than the impact of conversion of upland habitat to cropland. DU will continue to conduct research to learn more about the potential negative impacts energy development could have on prairie ducks and their habitats. The next step is to measure the cumulative effects across the PPR as more land is impacted by various forms of energy development in the future. 

Training the Next Generation 
Just as we have benefited from the knowledge of previous generations of scientists, we must ensure that a new generation of waterfowl scientists is trained to step in and help lead waterfowl conservation into the future. Accordingly, DU engages with many universities throughout North America and contributes to the graduate education of many students. Partnerships with universities not only ensure that bright young scientists receive the training they need, but also provide DU access to intellectual resources at universities to help answer questions important to our mission. DU Canada and DU Inc. jointly sponsor five fellowships each year to help support graduate student projects, and graduate students partner with DU scientists on most of our research projects.

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