Southern Great Plains

Level II Ducks Unlimited conservation priority area, the primary migration corridor for several million ducks and geese in the Central Flyway

© Jeff McCartney

The Southern Great Plains contains wetlands of high value to waterfowl including playa lakes, shallow meandered rivers, large saline lakes, man-made ponds and reservoirs. Each provides unique and valuable wintering and migration habitat for several million waterfowl in the Central Flyway. An underlying conservation issue that affects wetlands in the SGP and may have potentially serious implications for waterfowl is allocation and use of water. Surface and ground water are used to flood restored wetlands and for irrigation to produce cereal grains, particularly corn which is an important source of energy for migrating and wintering waterfowl in the SGP.

Importance to waterfowl

  • The Southern Great Plains is the primary migration corridor for several million ducks and geese in the Central Flyway.
  • During mild winters, up to 4 million ducks and 1 million geese winter in this region.
  • Mallard, northern pintail, green-winged teal and Canada geese are the most common wintering waterfowl.
  • Each spring, 5-15 million ducks and geese stage on the wetlands of the Rainwater Basin and Platte River before migrating north to prairie and arctic breeding grounds. Pintails, mallards, white-fronted geese, Canada geese, and snow geese are the most abundant species on these spring staging areas.

Habitat issues

  • Southern Great Plains mapMost wetlands are in private ownership and most have undergone extensive changes to their hydrological regimes as a result of agricultural activities, primarily drainage and irrigation.
  • Ninety-seven percent of the original wetlands in the Rainwater Basin have been drained and converted to agricultural production.
  • Avian diseases are a serious problem in playa wetlands and the Rainwater Basin especially in dry winters and springs when masses of birds are concentrated in the few remaining wetlands.
  • The Platte River has lost 70% of its historic spring flows and its channel width has been reduced by 80%. Development pressures are increasing along the Platte, especially near the front range of the Rocky Mountains.

DU's conservation focus

  • Protect, restore, enhance and manage wetland and waterfowl habitat throughout the region with particular emphasis on the objectives of the Rainwater Basin and Playa Lakes joint ventures.
  • Continue using a revolving land strategy to protect and restore diverse wetland communities in the Rainwater Basin.Protect critical stretches of the Platte River though donated conservation easements and restore seasonal floodplain wetlands adjacent to the river.
  • Maintain strong funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) which are critical tools for achieving DU's conservation objectives in the SGP.
  • Continue research on waterfowl breeding ecology in the Nebraska Sandhills to better understand the production capacity of that large grassland landscape.

States in the Southern Great Plains region

Colorado | KansasNebraskaNew Mexico | Oklahoma
South Dakota | Texas | Wyoming

More information