DU volunteers from across South Dakota and neighboring states participated in an educational field day at DU’s Goebel Ranch located in McPherson County, SD on Saturday August 22, 2009. The nearly 40 individuals who participated in the event learned about the critically important conservation work and research DU is conducting on the Goebel Ranch and across the entire prairie landscape of the Dakotas.
The main focus of this event was to inform participants about the continued effort and dedication DU is making towards the preservation of duck nesting habitat in the region and the far-reaching benefits this conservation work is having for waterfowl enthusiasts across the entire continent and beyond. The group learned about DU’s Grasslands for Tomorrow Initiative, which has the primary objective to perpetually protect 2 million acres of grasslands and wetlands across the Missouri Coteau region of the eastern Dakota’s and northeastern Montana by the year 2019.
The DU volunteers also went into the field to participate in a duck-banding program that is occurring on the Goebel Ranch. Ten swim-in type duck traps were strategically placed in various wetlands across the ranch. The DU volunteers visited five of these traps during the field tour where a total of 65 ducks received new aluminum bands on their legs. Most of the ducks that were banded were blue-winged teal, but the volunteers were witnesses to a rare site in the traps at Goebel: two wood ducks!
“Typically only one or two of these birds are captured and banded on the ranch each year, so having two wood ducks in one trap in one day is quite a rare treat,” said Bruce Toay, DU Biologist and Assistant Land Manager at the Goebel Ranch.
More than 2,100 ducks have been banded at Goebel so far this year, the 8th year for duck banding on the ranch. So far, over 14,000 ducks have been banded, of which over 1,000 birds have been harvested by hunters in 27 different states, three Canadian provinces, five Central and South American countries, and three Caribbean countries.
On-going research projects being conducted at the Goebel Ranch also were presented throughout the day. One of the more notable projects involves testing the impact different grazing systems have of duck production and livestock performance. This project involves comparing how duck nesting success varies among three different grazing practices commonly implemented by ranchers in SD (Season-Long Grazing, 4-Pasture Once-Over Rotation, and 4-Pasture Twice-Over Rotation).
The wetland conditions on the Ranch have improved dramatically in 2009 when compared to the past six significantly dryer-than-average years. As a result of the improved water conditions, duck nesting densities on the ranch also increased dramatically. During duck nesting research in the 2008 field season about 12.5 acres had to be searched for each duck nest that was found, and in 2009 only 4 acres had to be searched for each duck nest that was found.
The increased sample size in duck nests this year will make it easier to run statistical tests on the collected data. The research project also includes testing how average daily weight gain of cattle grazing on the Goebel Ranch compares among the different systems.
“When the nesting and grazing data are analyzed after the grazing season, results from this study will give ranchers and other land managers a solid reference to assist them in finding the best grazing practices that will maximize both cattle performance and duck production on the prairie grasslands”, said Randy Meidinger, DU Manager of Conservation Programs. “DU and ranchers have common interests that are essential for both duck production and livestock production: healthy grasslands and wetlands.”
DU is interested in continuing to work with the ranching community to ensure that an intact and productive grassland and wetland landscape is secured for the production of waterfowl and cattle for today, tomorrow, and for future generations.