Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
To determine, in part, the degree to which wildlife benefits from CRP land, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center is conducting studies on game and nongame species of breeding birds. Since 1989, biologists of the NPWRC, South Dakota State University, and the USFWS's Habitat and Population Evaluation Team in Bismarck have studied nest success of ducks on CRP land.
In three studies, nest searches were conducted on more than 5,000 acres of CRP land in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. In areas with many wetlands, CRP fields of tame grasses provide nesting cover for upland-nesting ducks. This type of cover is at least as secure as similar vegetative covers on federal waterfowl production areas.
Nest success and use of the fields by ducks varies greatly, however. All major species of upland-nesting ducks in the region - blue-winged teal, mallards, gadwalls, northern pintails, northern shovelers, green-winged teal and American wigeon - nest in CRP fields. Nest success of mallards, northern pintails and gadwalls, species that often nest relatively long distances from water, seems especially high in CRP fields.
Because these studies revealed that a combination of prairie wetlands and abundant nesting cover can result in high nest success, wetland restoration near tracts CRP land may significantly increase waterfowl production. The CRP tracts must be carefully selected, however, and vegetation on associated wetlands must properly managed to maintain a ratio of emergent cover to open water that attract breeding pairs and provides good brood rearing habitat.
In our study of waterfowl, broods of sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasants and gray partridge were also noted. Twenty-seven broods were observed in CRP fields, but only five broods in about the same area of WPAs. The great increase in harvest of ring-necked pheasants in North Dakota during the last few years is probably a major benefit of the program to hunters.
Biologists also noted several years ago that prairie chickens were establishing dancing grounds on CRP fields in Minnesota. CRP thus may provide an opportunity to restore populations of this formerly abundant bird.