Duck Production in a Changing World
Hope for Duck Hunters
Part I: The Problem is on the Breeding Grounds!
The many state and federal refuges, private duck clubs and properties held by various non-government organizations are a testimony to the work that waterfowlers have put forth in protecting vital wetland habitat across North America. Tens-of-thousands of acres have been enhanced and managed to provide migrating and wintering waterfowl the food resources and loafing areas they require.
Although a variety of issues continue to demand attention in key migration and wintering habitats, the volumes of scientific literature illustrate that ducks are largely faring quite well during their migration and wintering periods.
Recent research also illustrates that duck production on the breeding grounds is where the biological bottleneck for ducks exists. A recent analysis conducted by Steve Hoekman shows that for mid-continent mallards, 76% of the factors limiting population growth occur on the breeding grounds. While this comes as no surprise to serious waterfowlers, it shows us that nest success, hen survival and duckling survival are the key elements to increase duck production and consequently, the abundant ducks we all desire in the fall flights.
This realization shows us that the key work on behalf of waterfowl and waterfowlers needs to be focused on the breeding grounds. And today, with declining production and the losses of both wetland and upland nesting habitat, the task will be a difficult one.
Current State of the Breeding Grounds
Most ducks are harvested thousands of miles from where they were produced and most duck hunters have never been to the breeding grounds during the nesting season. And while many envision the Prairies as being a pristine landscape bustling with breeding ducks, that is most certainly not the case on the Prairies today. The Prairies, are, and will always be, not only the critical source of ducks across North America, but also a landscape tasked with producing much of the world’s food and fiber and an emerging source of energy.
While all waterfowlers are familiar with the historic loss of wetlands across key areas of the “Duck Factory,” many would be surprised to learn that despite significant investments and key initiatives to conserve and restore potholes, the loss rate of wetlands in key areas of the Canadian Prairies continues at the same rate today as it has for decades.
In addition to the loss of wetlands, the loss of nesting cover has adversely impacted breeding ducks. Puddle ducks nest away from the ponds themselves, in available grassy cover, providing them the security to successfully incubate their eggs. As agriculture on the Prairies has intensified, nesting cover has been reduced to small parcels, concentrating predators and nests into lesser quality patches of cover.Today, with burgeoning demand for grains and a renewed intensity of cultivation, even those areas which have been key sources of duck production are under intense pressure. Rising cash rental rates and high commodity prices in recent years have caused waning interest in participation in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which is widely regarded as the greatest habitat program ever conceived for its massive reach and its ability to deliver nesting cover on a landscape scale. In addition, native grasslands in the Missouri Coteau and other key duck production regions are being lost at an accelerated rate as demands for additional cropping acres are reducing cover on a massive scale.
In all, the habitat challenges on the breeding grounds are acute, and causing breeding ducks long odds in their quest to reproduce.
Part One: The Problem is on the Breeding Grounds & Current State of the Breeding Grounds
Part Two: Declining Duck Production on the Breeding Grounds
Part Three: ALUS: A new Approach to Duck Production
Part Four: New Tools to Increase Duck Production