Habitat Decline Spurs Waterfowl Protection Programs

Predators_001Last season may have been one to remember, not only because a record number of ducks flew south, but because we may not see another season like it for a long time. Thanks to a looming decline in critical nesting habitat, ducks are facing a grim future.

North Dakota has already lost 3,100-square miles of nesting cover since 1999 — a trend that will likely worsen. Nearly 800,000 acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program in that state, the heart of the duck factory, are set to expire this fall. Congress is also considering major cuts to various agriculture programs, including the CRP, which has played a significant role in duck production since its inception in 1985.


An estimated 2.5 million additional ducks are produced each year as a direct result of CRP. If some lawmakers get their way the program may be capped at 25 or even 20 million acres, down from the current cap of 32 million acres, says Delta Waterfowl's John Devney. On top of that, commodity prices are skyrocketing; many farmers are choosing not to re-enroll land that was protected by CRP.



"When you look at the average payments for CRP compared to the cash rental rates, it's not hard to figure out what landowners will do when they have a choice of enrolling their land in CRP or renting it out to a farmer," says Devney.

That's why the future of duck management may partly lie in controlling predator populations. As the total acreage of high-quality nesting habitat dwindles, there's no question nest predation by skunks, raccoons and other terrestrial mammals will have an even larger impact on duck production. Trapping could be one solution. Delta has been involved in predator management research since the mid-1990s when scientists attempted to answer a basic question: Will removing predators from nesting areas have a positive effect on duck production? The answer is a resounding "yes," particularly in areas with poor nesting cover.


One study in Canada found nest success was just 3 percent on untrapped areas compared to 31.5 percent on trapped areas. Another study found positive results in North Dakota, as well.


Nest success was just 16.7 percent on untrapped land, but 32.6 percent in areas where trappers removed high numbers of mammalian predators.

Devney says predator management may not necessarily be the only solution if current trends in CRP losses continue, but it will certainly be a viable solution and one that may be a necessary tool if the loss of nesting habitat continues. Roger Hollevoet, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and refuge complex manager, agrees.

"Right now, I'm not even thinking about it. We have lots of water, good grass and low predator numbers thanks, in part, to a mange outbreak," says Hollevoet, who oversees 250 waterfowl production areas in North Dakota. "If the region continues to lose suitable habitat, then I think predator management could be a useful tool in waterfowl recruitment."

But predator management isn't free. Nor is it cheap. One study by Delta suggested that trapping efforts cost as much as $20 per duck produced. Devney, however, looks at it from a different angle: the numbers work out to just $1.50 per acre. He says it's not unreasonable to institute predator management efforts on as many as 175 treatment areas that span 36-square miles each for a total cost of about $6 million per year. That may seem like a hefty price tag, but it's a fraction of the total amount spent on waterfowl conservation through private, state and federal conservation efforts.

"Ducks are expensive, no matter how they are produced," insists Devney. "I don't know what the cost per duck is for other treatments, but I bet you would be hard-pressed to find a cheaper cost-per-duck treatment than predator management."

He's right. A 2007 study authored by Ben Rashford and Richard Adams found that cropland retirement programs produced one duck per $1,111 spent while predator control costs $66 per duck produced. It's substantially more than the $20 per duck suggested in the Delta study, but it's a bargain compared to the money spent on various conservation programs.

Not everyone likes the idea of increased predator management efforts, even in the face of declining nesting cover. Johann Walker, Ducks Unlimited's director of conservation planning for the Great Plains regional office, admits that predator control does work on a local scale, but it's not a viable long-term solution.

"The base duck population is widely distributed throughout the Prairie Pothole Region and there are millions of potholes, so it's difficult to see how predator management on a small scale will benefit ducks as a whole," says Walker. "Ducks Unlimited's approach is habitat-based. We are all about habitat, and that includes land outside of CRP."

Indeed, 175 units of 36-square miles translates to just 4 million acres, a fraction of the total nesting habitat in the PPR. Devney, however, isn't suggesting managers abandon conservation practices in favor of trapping skunks and other mammalian predators. Trapping efforts could help in pinpoint areas with poor nesting habitat, a looming issue as conservation programs face significant cuts.

"There's no question habitat is the key, but the hard truth is we will be dealing with a lot less habitat in the future," says Devney. "We know predator management works, so we think it's certainly another way to help ducks."

Recommended for You

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will have your taste buds screaming for more. Recipes

Sweet Jalapeño Grilled Duck Recipe

Scott Leysath, "The Sporting Chef"

The sweet, tangy flavor of orange juice combined with spicy jalapeños in this duck recipe will...

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason. Retriever

Waterfowl Workouts: 3 Summer Duck Dog Drills

Tony J. Peterson

Keep your retriever sharp in the offseason.

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance. Retriever

Gun Dog Nutrition & Intelligence

Tony J. Peterson

Nourish your pup's noggin for elite performance.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Franchi 12-Gauge Affinity Semiauto Shotgun

Craig Boddington and Eric Poole take a look at the new modern Franchi Affinity shotgun.

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

Puppy Training Getting Started

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show! Shotguns

Best New Waterfowl Shotguns for 2019

Lynn Burkhead - January 23, 2019

Check out our picks for the best new waterfowl guns from the 2019 SHOT Show!

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call. Calls

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Lynn Burkhead - January 28, 2019

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during...

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun choke Accessories

8 Best Choke Tubes for 2017

Wildfowl Online Staff - October 25, 2017

While there's no guarantee they'll make you a better shot, these 8 newly-designed shotgun...

See More Stories

More Politics

It's been the talk of the waterfowl community for the past 10 years, but this time, it just may Politics

Bucks for Ducks: Increasing the Federal Stamp Price

David Hart - May 14, 2012

It's been the talk of the waterfowl community for the past 10 years, but this time, it just...

Pennsylvania's undergoing a heated debate over legislation that seeks to lift the ban from Sunday Politics

Sunday Hunting in Pennsylvania Under Consideration

Angela Pham - June 30, 2011

Pennsylvania's undergoing a heated debate over legislation that seeks to lift the ban from...

When Mark Crain found a spot on the tidal Potomac River that didn't appear to have a duck blind Politics

Locked Out: Restrictive Duck Blind Laws Keep Waterfowlers From Hunting Public Water

David Hart - September 09, 2011

When Mark Crain found a spot on the tidal Potomac River that didn't appear to have a duck...

See More Politics

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×