Prairie Pothole Region

Level I Ducks Unlimited conservation priority area, the most important and threatened waterfowl habitat in North America

The Prairie Pothole Region is the core of what was once the largest expanse of grassland in the world, the Great Plains of North America. Its name comes from a geological phenomenon that left its mark beginning 10,000 years ago. When the glaciers from the last ice age receded, they left behind millions of shallow depressions that are now wetlands, known as prairie potholes. The potholes are rich in plant and aquatic life, and support globally significant populations of breeding waterfowl. Agricultural development caused considerable wetland drainage in the area. The Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region are No. 1 on the 25 most important and threatened waterfowl habitats on the continent.

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Importance to waterfowl

  • Prairie Pothole Region mapMillions of ducks and geese pass through the PPR each spring, nesting in the grasslands.
  • Nest success and hen mortality during breeding are the most important factors responsible for change in mid-continent mallard populations.
  • The PPR provides important breeding habitat for pintails, mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads.
  • The PPR is also important migrations habitat for waterfowl breeding in the Boreal Forest and Arctic such as lesser scaup, wigeon, green-winged teal, Canada geese and snow geese.

Habitat issues

  • Between 50 to 90 percent of the potholes in some regions have been lost or severely degraded – a trend that continues today.
  • Sixty to 90 percent of the original native grasslands have been lost, and loss of native and restored grassland continues today.
  • Shallow lakes in the eastern portion of the PPR are severely degraded by high water levels and rough fish populations caused by wetland drainage systems.

DU's conservation focus

  • Habitat programs delivered by DU and its partners on the Prairie Pothole Region are among the most aggressive on the continent.
  • Programs include perpetual protection of native habitats through easements or ownership, conversion of land use to functions more favorable to wildlife, and stewardship programs.
  • DU's Preserve Our Prairies initiative aims to perpetually protect almost 600,000 acres of the most productive remaining waterfowl habitat. The cross-border initiative covers North Dakota, South DakotaMontana, Wyoming, Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
  • DU employs satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems technology to examine rates of grassland loss in the Coteau region and target conservation efforts.
  • DU's Living Lakes initiative seeks to protect and enhance 400 shallow lakes across Minnesota and Iowa to improve spring migration habitat.

States in the Prairie Pothole Region

North Dakota | South DakotaIowaMinnesota | Montana

Canadian provinces in the Prairie Pothole Region

Alberta | British Columbia | Manitoba | Saskatchewan

More information