This year’s heavy rains in South Dakota have been a curse for many but a blessing for rancher Randy Barondeau. The abundant water showed what wetland conservation can do for his operation and the ducks have noticed.
“The area has been in a drought for the last three to four years, but it made a complete 180 this year and filled every basin out there,” said, Bruce Toay, DU South Dakota manager of conservation. “The ducks have responded incredibly.”
Rain has been rare on Barondeau’s South Dakota ranch and when it did fall it just kept going, running into creeks and rivers. Barondeau wanted to retain the water so his buffalo would not have to travel as far to get a drink, trampling good grass along the way.
He restored and protected thousands of previously cropped acres, but the work had not included the degraded wetlands. Ducks Unlimited stepped in to help restore and enhance wetlands on the property to benefit livestock and waterfowl.
Toay says DU’s recent restorations improved more than 100 acres of wetlands. Restoring wetlands makes the prairies more drought-resistant and ready to hold water when the rains come, helping waterfowl populations recover after dry years. DU also helped enhance the restored grass with more native species. The increased diversity improves grazing and bird nesting cover.
“Driving around, I bet I saw 80 ducks in one place,” Barondeau said. “Some of the sloughs used to dry up quickly. Now there is canary grass 6 feet tall. This country is feast or famine, but now the water will last longer.”