The next steps are in motion on a multi-year effort to enhance a historic western Kentucky waterfowl area.

Ballard Wildlife Management Area is an 8,000-acre state-owned habitat on the banks of the Ohio River. Established in the 1950s, Ballard quickly gained national reputation as a Canada goose hunting destination as populations from the southern shores of Hudson Bay and James Bay visited the area by the tens of thousands each year.

A changing climate and shifting land uses have dramatically reduced the number of geese wintering here each season. In 2017, Ducks Unlimited joined representatives from nine state, two federal wildlife agencies, two joint ventures and other non-profit organizations to contemplate habitat management, hunting management and water level management at Ballard WMA. The decision was to shift habitat conditions from a centralized deep-water roost for geese to a variety of shallow, moist-soil wetlands with interspersed refuge areas for ducks.

One of the projects that broke ground in 2020 was the installation of new water-control infrastructure on a 243-acre managed unit.

The original culverts were too small and failed. New structures will more than quadruple the former capacity, allowing wetland managers to manage both the north and south units. Better conditions will allow for annual moist soil crops, flooding the site for shorebirds and early migrating teal, holding water long enough to meet off-site demands and draining southward out of the units to be distributed to other wetland units in time to supply food to migrating and wintering waterfowl.

""Ballard WMA hosts 2,000 waterfowl hunter trips per year," said Dane Cramer, DU regional biologist for Kentucky. "Ducks and duck hunters will see the benefits, but this project has other valuable benefits, too. This area absorbs an impressive amount of floodwater, benefitting every downstream along the Mississippi River."

The construction scene of pouring concrete and setting steel will soon lead to a more natural landscape for ducks and people.

Over the next few years, several other large-scale wetland enhancement projects at Ballard WMA before moving on to other areas. The ultimate goal being the systematic upgrading of western Kentucky's wetlands over the next decade.