Conservation: DU's Ducks in the Desert Initiative

Conserving the precious wetlands of the arid western United States

By Devin Blankenship

At first glance, the scarce wetlands of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona may seem unimportant to waterfowl, but in reality they provide crucial habitat for Pacific Flyway duck populations. These wetlands are oases for millions of ducks raised in the Western Boreal Forest and Prairie Pothole Region as the birds migrate across the dry and rugged western United States. Many large lakes and marshes in the region also support impressive numbers of wintering waterfowl that, like many people, flock to  the desert during the coldest months of the year.

While Utah, Nevada, and Arizona are known for big-game hunting, resident duck hunters are much like the region's wetlands-relatively few in number, but rich in tradition. DU's Ducks in the Desert Initiative is dedicated to meeting the unique challenges of preserving the region's precious wetlands for the benefit of waterfowl, hunters, and other people. Ensuring sufficient water supplies for key waterfowl habitats is a top priority for DU in this arid region, which continues to suffer the effects of an unprecedented long-term drought. Funds raised through this initiative will also help DU conduct important science, public policy, and outreach efforts in support of its conservation goals.

Utah's Great Salt Lake is among the most important waterfowl migration and wintering areas in the United States, supporting as many as 3 million ducks at peak times. Marshes associated with the lake also support significant numbers of breeding waterfowl, including cinnamon teal, redheads, mallards, and gadwalls. Unfortunately, upstream diversions on the lake's main tributaries have reduced the size of its freshwater and brackish wetlands, particularly in Farmington Bay, Ogden Bay, and Bear River Bay. DU's conservation projects in Utah focus on maximizing the efficient use of limited water supplies in the lake's eastern-shore marshes and its surrounding watershed. To that end, DU collaborates with government agencies and private landowners to help them maintain the many important functions of Great Salt Lake wetlands.

In Nevada, DU's highest conservation priority areas include Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in the east and Stillwater/Carson Sink and the Lahontan Valley in the west, which are important migration, staging, and wintering areas for waterfowl as well as recreation areas for waterfowl hunters and other outdoors enthusiasts. Ducks Unlimited's conservation focus in Nevada is to restore and enhance the state's precious wetland habitats through the more efficient use of limited water supplies and a variety of other habitat management practices.

The final state in this initiative area, Arizona, is a land of extremes. The scarcity of water makes the state's limited wetlands especially important to waterfowl and other migratory birds. During the spring and fall, these habitats serve as rest stops for thousands of ducks and geese. The wetlands of Arizona face many threats, foremost among them declining water quality and quantity under drought conditions. Although the state's industrial and agricultural demands for water are increasing, rapid human population growth and concurrent domestic water demands are the most pervasive threats to wetlands and their water supplies.

Migratory waterfowl are a shared continental resource and know no borders. Thus, DU must work across North America to ensure a bright future for waterfowl and the people who enjoy them. By contributing to DU's Ducks in the Desert Initiative, you will be supporting crucial waterfowl habitat conservation in this initiative area as well as on the priority breeding grounds of the Western Boreal Forest of Canada and Alaska, where the majority of waterfowl are raised before beginning their journey to their wintering grounds in the lower Pacific Flyway.

Your gift to Ducks Unlimited is invaluable, and it is truly the greatest contribution you can make to secure the future of wetlands and waterfowl. Every dollar you give to Ducks Unlimited is leveraged multiple times to create a conservation impact far beyond your initial gift. In addition, we invest at least 80 cents of every dollar received in our conservation mission. Start making a difference right now for waterfowl, outdoorsmen and women, and future generations of wildlife and people by making your gift to DU's Ducks in the Desert Initiative. For more information about this and other DU initiatives, visit

Devin Blankenship is a communications specialist in DU's Western Region.