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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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U.S. Prairie Pothole Joint Venture
Implementation Plan

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 of wetlands.

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 Protection

   Right Arrow Bullet   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.

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For more information contact the Service Realty Office in your state.

Grassland Restoration

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 conservation plans.

Grassland Management

   Right Arrow Bullet   Native grass

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.

   Right Arrow Bullet   Planted cover

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.

   Right Arrow Bullet   Delayed Haying

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 growth occurs.

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.

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NOTE: Checking fields by dragging or other means will allow you to determine the value of that field, possibly prior to setting up an agreement.

   Right Arrow Bullet   Minimum-Till Spring Wheat

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.

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   Right Arrow Bullet   No-Till Winter Wheat

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").

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   Right Arrow Bullet   Sweet 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.

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   Right Arrow Bullet   Grazing Programs

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.

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   Right Arrow Bullet   Reduced 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.

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   Right Arrow Bullet   Tree Removal

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.

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NOTE: Remove all slash and debris. Otherwise predators such as skunks and fox may be attracted to the site.

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