Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Prairie Pothole Joint Venture
Implementation Guidelines for Management Strategies
Endemic wildlife evolved to fill specific ecological niches within the PPR. Historically,
native grassland provided habitat for many wildlife species. The PPR landscape
has undergone significant alteration since early settlement. Activities with universal
impact on wildlife throughout the region included (1) deterioration of the native
grazing community, (2) cultivation of grains and introduced grasses, and (3) draining
Protection, restoration, and management of grasslands will ensure public values
such as wildlife habitat, reduction of soil erosion, increased water quality,
and recreational opportunities.
Grassland Acquisition (Easements or Fee Title)
- Remnant native grassland and select CRP lands will be acquired by fee title
from willing sellers.
The objective of grassland easements is to maintain these areas by preventing
conversion to cropland. Currently the Service's Realty Division is administering
an easement program and is in the process of developing criteria. Haying
is delayed on grassland easements until after July 15, buy there are no
restrictions on grazing. With the exception of delaying hay operations,
grassland easements do not provide benefits greater than those currently
in place on grasslands. Easements may be taken on cropland with provisions
to reestablish grassland cover. In this case, advantages to duck recruitment
potential may be realized.
- Target areas with high density of wetlands, especially in temporary,
seasonal, and semipermanent classes (wetlands can be on areas adjacent
to the easement).
- Avoid areas with trees or tall shrubs >1.5 m.
- Recent studies are demonstrating that nest success on coyote dominated
areas in generally higher than on those areas dominated by red fox. Give
priority to coyote dominated areas vs. fox dominated.
- Give priority to native pasture vs. introduced grasses.
- Target relatively large blocks ≥640 acres.
The larger the better.
- Some grasslands and cropland will need to be reseeded/seeded to be beneficial
or meet the requirements for taking an easement. This may cause the price
to be prohibitive if cost is to be borne by the agency obtaining easement.
For more information contact the Service Realty Office in your state.
Restoration of native grasses or enhancement of uplands with dense nesting
cover should provide a mosaic of vegetative types from short, sparse vegetation
to dense cover for the various species of birds, including waterfowl, that will
utilize the area.
Planted cover and idle grass cover, such as that planted on land enrolled
in the USDA CRP, and native grasslands provide attractive nesting cover with
high nest success for upland nesting birds. Idle grass uplands adjacent to wetlands
or wetland corridors, such as waterways or drainage ditches, provide essential
nesting cover for wetland-associated species. Similar benefits may be realized
from nesting cover established on state, Federal, and private lands specifically
managed for upland nesting birds. Cropland (which has generally low attractiveness
and nest success) converted to one of these habitat types may be the most beneficial
method of improving the overall biodiversity of an area.
Conservation Reserve Program
Maintain 6-7 million acres of CRP in the PPR to provide critical wetland and
grassland habitat for waterfowl and other wetland-associated wildlife.
Various studies have indicated that taking the land out of agricultural production
and establishing perennial cover (CRP) has increased waterfowl nesting success
and benefited many other non-waterfowl species. The attractiveness and availability
of CRP has increased potential for wildlife production by providing nesting
habitat and protection from predators.
Maintain and expand CRP (in larger block sizes (> 160 acres) with multiple
contracts to create 1000-2000-acre blocks) in areas of high natural resource
value such as riparian areas, wetlands, floodplains, uplands associated with
wetlands and habitat for threatened or endangered species.
Convert CRP land with high environmental priority such as wetlands to perpetual
easements based on fair market value.
Increase involvement of landowners in resource conservation goals by providing
adequate technical and educational assistance for preparing and implementing
- Maintain in healthy state by using fire, grazing, or mowing treatments.
Mismanaged native grasslands tend to succeed to blue grass dominated cover
that is of little value to nesting ducks.
- Planted cover needs to be renewed occasionally. The technique will vary
and may include mowing and grazing, but disturbing soil or complete reseeding
may be necessary.
- Hay fields, especially alfalfa, can provide attractive nesting cover that
is relatively secure from nest predators. Most hayland provides little residual
cover in early spring and thus does not attract ducks until later when new
Subsequent haying takes place prior to when most nests hatch, destroying
the potential benefits of this cover type. In some circumstances delayed
haying may provide the extra time needed for nests to hatch.
Benefits from delayed haying operations must be assessed annually.
- Target areas with currently high numbers of wet ponds (wet years) and
high duck numbers.
- Target blocks of hayland (not narrow strips) with uniform, monotypic
vegetative stands and terrain.
- Avoid fields with trails, vehicle tracks, debris, dugouts, windmills,
buildings, etc. These features attract predators to venture into the field.
- Target areas with low amounts of competing cover. The idea is to pay
for delayed haying only on fields that will have a high number of nests.
- Avoid fields < 20 acres.
- Delay haying until July 15
||Checking fields by dragging or other means will allow you to determine
the value of that field, possibly prior to setting up an agreement.
- Residual cover from standing stubble can provide limited nesting cover which
is attractive to early nesting species, particularly pintails. Fields with
such limited cover are preferable to aggressively tilled fields. Additionally,
the residual cover may provide moisture and soil conservation benefits.
- Target areas near wetlands and where soil erosion is most severe.
- Avoid sunflower fields. Predators in the spring are attracted to fields
that were planted to sunflowers the previous year.
- Winter wheat sown in standing stubble provides moderate residual cover in
the form of stubble and vegetation. Winter wheat often gets a head start on
spring sown small grain and provides a better cover for nesting ducks and
other birds. Nest success in winter wheat has been found to be acceptable
(about 30 percent "Mayfield").
- Recommended for any area, but especially in intensive agricultural areas.
- Avoid fields with rock piles, junk piles, etc.
- Target large, uniform blocks of land.
- Target areas with high number of wetlands.
- Stubble should be tall (12 inches) to trap snow. This is important for
- Rotate to flax every third year, especially if weeds are a problem.
Clover Underseeding with Small Grain
- This practice is recommended for spring seeded small grain fields that will
be fallowed the following spring. The sweet clover protects soil during the
fallow period, adds nutrients, and traps snow during the winter. No nest success
data is available, but it is expected to be comparable to other cover with
similar height and density. Benefits of this practice are reduced substantially
if haying takes place earlier than July 10, so incentive payments are usually
necessary for delayed haying.
- Areas scheduled for fallow the following spring.
- Target areas with high numbers of wetlands.
- Select areas with limited acres of CRP or other highly attractive cover
(to avoid competing with this type of more stable cover).
- ≥20 acres (larger is better).
- The benefits of grazing systems are mutual, providing increased forage for
cattle and enhanced cover for nesting ducks. The WPAs may be included in grazing
programs to manage vegetation.
- Any pasture area is appropriate for a grazing system, but coyote dominated
areas should result in a higher duck yield than areas dominated by red
- Select areas with high numbers and acreage of wetlands (high pair potential).
- The larger the better. Target for areas ≥320
acres, with no maximum size limit.
Mowing on Highway Rights-of-Way
- Highway and Railroad Rights of Way (ROW) often provide the only substantial
area of cover in some landscapes. Nest success on some of these areas has
been found to be relatively high. Competing interests such as haying, weed
control, safety and aesthetic appeal all tend to compromise the value of ROW
for nesting ducks. For example, if all unimproved section lines were maintained
in grass cover, this would provide 1.5 million acres of habitat in North Dakota.
Other states could benefit similarly depending on laws governing the use of
these areas. However, not all ROWs are equally valuable as nesting areas for
ducks. In fact some ROW areas are extremely attractive to predators.
- Select wide Rights of Way along well traveled hard surfaced roads (divided
highways and Interstate highways are best).
- Target areas with numerous wetlands.
- Mow every second year after July 15. Alternate mowing by area.
- Determine which areas have high nest success and target these for management.
- Trees provide nesting sites and perches for aerial predators such as hawks,
owls, and crows. Trees also provide den sites for mammalian predators, primarily
raccoons. Felling and removal of tree remains may substantially reduce predation
of duck nests and hens in some areas.
- Where areas have been established specifically for waterfowl production
such as WPAs.
- Nearer areas where intensive treatments are being applied (e.g. predator
exclosures, nest structures).
||Remove all slash and debris. Otherwise predators such as skunks and
fox may be attracted to the site.
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