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DU Biologists Say Prairies Need Water, and Fast

MEMPHIS, TN, May 17, 2004 — Ducks Unlimited biologists and field staff across western Canada and the north-central United States say habitats on the breeding grounds need a healthy dose of precipitation very soon if conditions are to improve on the prairies.

In the U.S. Great Plains, biologists are concerned about the lack of water on the breeding grounds. "Wetland conditions have deteriorated over much of the Great Plains in the last month and it will take some major spring precipitation to recharge wetlands and attract later nesting species," says Steve Adair, Director of Conservation Programs in DU's Great Plains Office.

In Canada, biologists are concerned that much-needed water is being absorbed into the ground, leaving little excess for breeding birds. "It seems that the dry soil conditions across the west really soaked up the spring melt resulting in little runoff in many areas," said Dr. Henry Murkin, Chief Biologist for Ducks Unlimited Canada. "We had some amazing rain storms around Winnipeg in early April that resulted in quite a bit of standing water on the landscape. However, as soon as the frost went out of the ground, most of it was gone. It sounds like that was a common situation across the southern prairie provinces."

"The current situation on the breeding grounds highlights how quickly things can change on the prairies, said DU's Chief Biologist, Dr. Bruce Batt. "The prairies are a very dynamic landscape. We got some welcome snow and rain in the second week of May across the southern Canadian prairies. This will improve habitat for the later nesting species in that region, but the overall pattern remains much as described below in the reports from DU staff across the breeding grounds." The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service are conducting the official breeding population surveys right now. "We all look forward to seeing the results," said Batt. "It is the most significant and complete survey available to determine population status and habitat conditions as the birds start to breed."

April Habitat Conditions in North-Central U. S.

Little moisture was received across the Northern Great Plains of the U. S. in April and wetland conditions deteriorated in many areas. Northern Montana presently has excellent habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl and large numbers of waterfowl are present. South Dakota is dry over a large portion of the state and waterfowl production is expected to be fair to poor. Wetland conditions are quite variable in North Dakota ranging from fair in the south to very good in northern sectors of the state. The spring waterfowl migration was rapid through Minnesota and Iowa with the birds finding good habitat conditions present in Iowa but much drier conditions in southern and central Minnesota. The Sandhills of Nebraska continue to be in drought and production will likely be only fair in that region. Major and large-scale precipitation events are needed during May to maintain or improve habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl in North-Central U. S.

North Dakota — The northeast portion of North Dakota will provide very good wetland conditions for breeding waterfowl although nesting cover is lacking in this portion of the state. The northwest corner of the state will provide only fair wetland conditions, even though the area received a significant amount of snow this winter. This area was very dry last fall, received significant snowfall early before the ground was frozen and did not have a good frost seal. This resulted in limited run-off in most areas.

The central portion of the prairie pothole region in the state will supply the best habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl this spring. Water conditions are good and there is an abundance of native grassland and CRP to provide upland nesting cover.

The southern half of the state is very dry and breeding conditions will be poor to fair. The farther south one goes the dryer it is. Many of these southern areas were very dry last fall and experienced little moisture during the winter. Waterfowl production should be limited to larger wetlands that are much lower in productivity for breeding waterfowl. Breeding chronology is about two weeks ahead of normal with many birds already attempting to nest.

SouthDakota — No major, large-scale precipitation events have occurred this spring to date and wetland conditions for breeding waterfowl continue to be poor over a large portion of the state. Southeastern South Dakota received snow during the winter and has fair to good wetland conditions although nesting cover is lacking in this region. The extreme eastern areas of the state have carry-over water, have received some spring rain and will supply fair to good wetland conditions for breeding waterfowl. The central and western portions of the state are dry to extremely dry. Waterfowl breeding pair numbers will be low and production will be poor with a few isolated areas experiencing fair production.

Montana— Waterfowl breeding habitat conditions across the Hi-Line from Glasgow to Havre are in excellent condition. Some areas set records for the amount of snowfall this past winter. This area attracts large numbers of breeding pintails when it is wet and coupled with the extensive nesting cover, pintail and other waterfowl production should be good across the Hi-Line this year. The remainder of the state, except for the northwest corner, is dry and habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl range from fair to poor. Some of the small reservoirs received some run-off and will provide limited habitat for breeding waterfowl across the prairies south and east of the Missouri River. The Rocky Mountain Front is dry and production will be poor. The inter-mountain valleys are very dry except for the northwest around the Flathead and Mission Valleys. Breeding chronology is about two weeks ahead of normal with many birds already nesting.

Iowa — Moisture conditions have been good over most of north-central Iowa during April. The spring migration was rapid but good numbers of breeding waterfowl are present and mallards have begun nesting. Although over 90% of Iowa's historic wetlands and grasslands have been lost, the mallards, blue-winged teal, and Canada geese that do settle to breed there this year should have good production.

Minnesota — Habitat conditions continue to be dry and rain sparse across most of southern and central Minnesota with the outlook for waterfowl production being poor to fair. Northwest Minnesota has continued to receive moisture and shallow flooded wetland habitat has attracted large numbers of mallards and blue-winged teal. The forested portion of northeast and north-central Minnesota has experienced average moisture conditions and waterfowl production should be fair to good in these areas. Wild rice production is expected to be good this year in the northern wild rice lakes as a result of lower spring water levels. The spring migration of waterfowl through Minnesota was early and rapid this spring.

Nebraska— Drought continues to exist over most of Nebraska. The small seasonal wetlands in central and western Nebraska are mostly dry this spring. The Sandhills and western Nebraska will have fair to poor habitat conditions for breeding waterfowl. In eastern and northeastern sectors of the state good wetland conditions exist.

Wyoming — Central Wyoming received significant rain and snowfall during the last week of April and this should improve habitat conditions in this area. Over most of the state habitat, however, habitat conditions remain mostly fair for breeding waterfowl.

Colorado- March produced early snowmelt in elevations below 9,000 feet that significantly reduced snow pack statewide. Increased precipitation during April has benefited much of Colorado with the Front Range and the San Juan mountains benefiting most.


March water supplies in the South Platte River Basin were 51% of normal. The early April rain and snow significantly improved conditions in this region and increased the snow pack to 74% of normal.

March snow pack for the Rio Grande Basin was 77% of normal. Precipitation events in early April increased snow pack to 88% of normal. Rain and snow throughout the San Luis Valley in early April increased surface water conditions with the majority of wetland basins flooding. The greatest concentrations of migrant waterfowl have now moved on through the San Luis Valley. The waterfowl remaining are those birds that will compose the breeding population. Wetland conditions in the San Luis Valley are excellent currently. Waterfowl production is expected to be significantly improved in this area from last year.

Wetland conditions in the northern mountains and parks are improved over last year but still well below the long-term average. Wetland condition in North Park is 80% of normal entering the nesting season. Due to low snow pack, there is uncertainty regarding the availability of irrigation water to maintain nesting habitat. Biologists are estimating that nesting will be similar to last year but slightly improved over 2001 and 2002 in this region.

Early Spring Habitat Conditions in Canada

Breeding habitat conditions in eastern Canada are generally good to very good as waterfowl begin nesting. Habitats across the prairies and parklands range from poor to good. Run-off was less than anticipated in many areas due to dry soils and a poor frost seal. Canada geese, mallards, and pintails have initiated nesting in southern areas. Breeding habitat remains dry in the interior of British Columbia.

Saskatchewan- Breeding habitat is fair to good throughout Saskatchewan's Aspen Parkland. Good habitat exists in isolated areas of the Allan Hills and in western portions of the parklands near Lloydminster and Meadow Lake. Habitats in the eastern parklands are fair to good with fair conditions in the Melville and Yorkton areas. In western Saskatchewan, prairie habitats are in poor to fair condition from Kerrobert to Rosetown. Fair conditions exist in the southwest corner of the province. Good habitat exists along the Canadian-U.S. border in the southern Coteau. Moving northwest in the Coteau, habitat conditions grade to fair due to low run-off. A slow thaw over dry soil saw most of the moisture soak into the ground rather than fill the wetland basins. Mallards and pintails have initiated nesting. Conditions in southeast Saskatchewan improved with the heavy snow and rain of the second week on May.

Alberta- Habitat conditions remain dry over much of southern Alberta. Wetlands associated with irrigation districts will provide good breeding habitat. Wetlands located on the Milk River Ridge (southwest) and in the Cypress Hills (southeast) received welcome run-off from late winter snows. Habitats there are in good condition. Habitats elsewhere in prairie Alberta are in poor to fair condition. All waterfowl species common to southern Alberta have now returned and mallards, pintails, and Canada geese are nesting.

Poor to fair habitat conditions exist across the Alberta Aspen Parkland. Most semi-permanent wetlands have dry emergent zones with exposed mudflats. Seasonal and temporary ponds dried up quickly as the frost left the ground. Most species of waterfowl have returned to the Aspen Parkland and mallards and Canada geese have initiated nesting.

Wetland habitats over most of the Peace Parklands are in fair to good condition as waterfowl return to the region. Above-average late winter snow helped improve conditions. Fair habitat exists in the southern portion of the Peace Parklands. Although most wetlands remain frozen, many species of waterfowl have returned including large numbers of tundra swans and a few trumpeter swans.

Manitoba- In our late winter report nearly all of southern Manitoba was anticipated to have good to perhaps very good breeding habitat. Unfortunately this expectation has been downgraded because much of the run-off from the late winter snow accumulation and heavy rains that occurred in late March soaked directly into the dry soils. Many wetlands, especially in the western part of the province have exposed mudflats. Good conditions exist in the West Lake and Interlake regions and in most of the south-central and eastern parts of the province. Some welcome precipitation that was needed to provide brood-rearing habitat during July and August occurred in the may 10th — 12th period in most of Manitoba, especially the southeast region. Mallards, pintails and Canada geese are nesting across the south.

Boreal Forest- Most wetland habitats throughout the Boreal Forest remain frozen with only river courses and associated deltas free of ice at this time. Precipitation accumulation across the Boreal Forest has been below normal in most regions; however the stable nature of boreal habitat is less impacted by dry climatic conditions than habitat in the prairies and parklands to the south.

British Columbia- Very good to excellent spring habitat exists along the British Columbia coast and in the Fraser Delta region. Elsewhere in the province, habitat conditions are dry, the result of nearly three years of drought. Habitats in interior B.C. are in generally fair condition. Fair to good habitat exists in northern portions of the Peace River Valley and in a small area of central B.C. around Williams Lake. Most waterfowl staging in the Fraser Delta have moved north and Canada geese and mallards have initiated nesting activities in the southern interior.

Ontario - Breeding habitat is only fair in extreme southern Ontario. Drier conditions during mid to late winter produced less run-off than expected and few ephemeral and temporary wetlands have water. In the Niagara region conditions are very good and breeding pairs are in evidence everywhere. Conditions are good in the remainder of southern Ontario as Canada geese and mallards initiate nesting. In north-western Ontario large lakes remain frozen and breeding pairs are just beginning to occupy open wetlands and streams.

Quebec - Early spring habitats in Quebec range from good condition in the southern townships to very good elsewhere in the province. Mallards, black ducks, and pintails have arrived in the St. Lawrence River Valley along with many Canada and greater snow geese.

Atlantic Canada — Breeding habitats in Atlantic Canada are in good to very good condition. Nearly all wetlands are at full supply despite the drier than average winter.

Ducks Unlimited will continue to keep our supporters updated with the latest information in a timely manner.

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world's largest wetland and waterfowl conservation group. The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands — nature's most productive ecosystems — and continues to lose more than 100,000 wetland acres each year.

Special thanks to the following DU staff members for their work in the field and contributions to this report:United States

Randy Renner - North Dakota & Montana

Rick Warhurst - South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, & Wyoming

Scott McLeod - Iowa

John Schneider - Minnesota

Jon Vradenburg - Colorado

Canada

Andrew MacInnis - Fredericton, New Brunswick

Bernard Filion - Quebec City, Quebec

Brett Caverley - Edmonton, Alberta

Darryl Kroeker - Kamloops, British Columbia

Dave Clayton - Brandon, Manitoba

Eric Butterworth - Edmonton, Alberta (Western Boreal Forest Initiative)

Michel Gendron - Kingston, OntarioMike Hill - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Contacts: Laura Houseal, (901) 758-3764 lhouseal@ducks.org

Bob Benson, (901) 758-3859 bbenson@ducks.org

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