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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Wildlife Habitat Management on the
Northern Prairie Landscape


Past successes of wildlife management were largely due to the devotion of its professionals; men and women working for 'the resource' made good things happen. Life is more complicated today. A wildlife biologist may spend more time staring at a computer screen than at a wetland. Information comes from satellites as often as from bag checks, and our journals contain more mathematics than maps of study areas. The profession has indeed become more sophisticated. The challenge ahead will be to maintain the enthusiasm that brought so many to our field while making full use of the best tools available. As we perform our mission, we should articulate our objectives in clear and concrete terms. They should be explicit and quantifiable. We should be able to explain and justify them to others who may not share our values. We should know when we have met the objectives. Equally important, they should be real goals, not just objectives we state to appear as though we are organized. If we are concerned about a population of animals, our goals should be defined in terms of those animals. Buying habitat, for example, should be a means to an end, not the end itself. Likewise, placating private landowners is beneficial only if it ultimately improves the situation for wildlife. Throughout this paper, we have tried to provide a sense of the prairie pothole landscape, the cyclical nature of the habitat caused by recurring drought, and the heavy impacts of human settlement induced by plowing, fire suppression, and drainage. We offered a perspective on the techniques applicable for managing habitats for migratory birds on a landscape scale. Depending on management objectives—identifying blocks of unique or diverse habitats, proposing acquisition or work on private lands to protect migratory bird populations, enhancing habitats for critical or declining species, or evaluating impacts of agricultural conservation programs on the landscape—different levels of resolution and knowledge of the landscape and the needs of migratory bird species are mandatory. We have tried to provide an overview of some data and tools available for several management functions at a landscape level. We reiterate that, before projects can succeed, clear and quantifiable objectives must be defined, evaluation strategies developed, and data necessary both to manage and to evaluate results must be described and collected. Whether developing a geographical information system or a predictive model, whether contemplating acquisition, easement, or habitat restoration and enhancement, decisions on the most effective combinations of tools available, and their location on the landscape, can be made only if the impacts of the actions can be linked quantitatively to migratory bird management objectives and considered against available alternatives.
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