DU, NRCS partner for mid-Atlantic black ducks

DU/NRCS biologist Chase Colmorgen, right, meets with landowners and NRCS partners on a project site in Virginia.

© NRCS

DU/NRCS biologist Chase Colmorgen, right, meets with landowners and NRCS partners on a project site in Virginia.

Nearly 15 months of planting seeds of conservation with agricultural landowners in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia is producing numerous conservation opportunities to improve American black duck habitat.

In 2019, Ducks Unlimited and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) used a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant to hire biologist Chase Colmorgen to help implement the NRCS Black Duck Working Lands for Wildlife Initiative.

Colmorgen has met with hundreds of people, hosted educational workshops and coordinated with local media to teach landowners about NRCS Farm Bill conservation programs. DU Regional Biologist Jake McPherson manages DU’s programs on the peninsula and said Colmorgen is invaluable for finding new avenues for private land conservation.

“Chase has really become an expert in all available wetland programs on the Delmarva Peninsula,” McPherson said. “So he can walk onto someone’s farm and, in some cases, be able to lay out a dozen options that a landowner can become involved in.”

Each farm is unique, and each landowner has different goals. Colmorgen said the strength of his position is being able to speak on behalf of DU and the NRCS. He’s connected farmers to Farm Bill efforts including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetland Reserve Easements and the Conservation Reserve Program.

The partnership has led to 25 new project sign-ups, two projects delivered and many now in survey, design or construction phase.

“The response has been great, and now I’m excited to move a lot of these projects forward,” Colmorgen said. “We’re getting to the point of construction and implementation.”

Each landowner signing up for a Farm Bill program means more duck habitat. Black ducks hold a special place in the hearts of East Coast waterfowlers, but its population has struggled. Once the most abundant dabbling duck in eastern North America, its numbers declined by greater than 50% between the 1950s and 1980s and have stabilized well below the population goal of 640,000 breeding birds.