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Waterfowl and Habitat Changes
After 40 Years on the Waubay Study Area

Changes on the Waubay Study Area

wetland Until recently, waterfowl populations had steadily declined (CWS/USFWS 1986). Because ducks provide recreational, aesthetic, and economic benefits, resource managers in South Dakota and other states continually search for new ways to increase duck recruitment (total number of surviving ducklings generated by a single species or by the entire population during one breeding season).

However, little is known about the environmental changes that have taken place on private and public lands over a period of years. Have waterfowl management techniques changed with evolving environmental conditions?

From 1950 to 1953, Evans and Black (1956) examined waterfowl and wetland relationships on the Waubay study area, a tract of mostly private land in Day County, South Dakota. Theirs was one of the first comprehensive studies of ducks in which detailed records were made of land use, wetland classification and location, wetland vegetation and its relationship to water permanency, and numbers of waterfowl pairs and broods. This information was used to determine the value of typical prairie pothole country to ducks and to determine the relative importance of various pothole types and the effects of their drainage on ducks.

Data from this study led to development of the Small Wetlands Acquisition Program and the purchase of Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs) in the prairie pothole region. The first WPA, the McCarlson WPA, is on the western edge of the study area and was purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) on January 19, 1959.

Subsequent long-term studies in other parts of the prairie pothole region have also provided valuable information about the importance of prairie pothole habitat to breeding waterfowl (Smith 1971; Stoudt 1971, 1982; Kiel et al. 1972; Leitch and Kaminski 1985; Higgins et al. 1992).

Of particular value to our study are the surveys that were continued at Waubay, either on the entire original study area or portions of it, by Jenni (1956) in 1954, by USFWS personnel during 1955-64 (except in 1956), and by Drewien (1968). Because of this extensive historical data, the Waubay study area offered a unique opportunity to repeat the study 40 years after the original project.

We collected data on upland and aquatic habitats, waterfowl populations, and landowner demographics in the Waubay study area to document habitat, land use, demographic, and ownership changes and to determine temporal and spatial changes in the physical and vegetative characteristics of wetlands since 1950-53. We also compared current waterfowl abundances and reproductive indices with those of the earlier study.

Results from our study will provide waterfowl managers in the prairie pothole region a comprehensive evaluation of landscape changes and their relationships to waterfowl abundances over a 40-year time period.

researcher candling an egg Left: A researcher candles an egg at the nest to determine incubation stage. Since the previous study, cropland acreage decreased substantially, drainage slowed, and 28 wetlands were restored. Most of the area is in private ownership.

Right: The many, diverse wetlands of the Waubay study area attract large numbers of nesting waterfowl.


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