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Effects of Grazing and Burning on Densities and
Habitats of Breeding Ducks in North Dakota

Management Implications

National wildlife refuges with a high density of brushy vegetation provide attractive habitat for upland-nesting waterfowl such as mallard and gadwall. Nest densities and success rates were high in the early years of our study. Pristine grassland communities were not characterized by such a high density of brush, however (Kirsch and Kruse 1972). Management plans for federal refuge lands may call for enhancement of the native grassland flora, reduction of brush, and preservation of biodiversity. The effects of such management practices on wildlife will probably vary by species.

The burning and burning/grazing practices examined in this study reduced the vigor of the brush but also reduced the nest densities of some species of breeding waterfowl. Grazing alone reduced nest densities during the grazing years, but the vegetation and ducks recovered quickly after grazing ended.

Any management practice may enhance some species and deter others. The results of our study suggest that the manipulations we studied were detrimental for most species of upland-nesting waterfowl, at least in some years. The control fields, on which no vegetation management was used, remained attractive to nesting waterfowl during the course of the study. Management scenarios similar to those we studied demonstrated little benefit on lands where the goal is enhancement of waterfowl populations. If the management objectives of federal refuge lands are broad and include species other than waterfowl, then there may be advantages to species not surveyed here that outweigh the negative effects on waterfowl.

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