Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The greatest challenge to maintaining a productive wetland base in the Dakotas is presented in the Central Lowlands. There, in many locations, an extensive wetland base remains, in part because of perpetual easements obtained by FWS, but much habitat continues to be degraded and/or drained by large cereal-grain farming operations. The Swampbuster provision may help to slow wetland drainage, but additional measures are needed to more fully protect watersheds and provide nesting cover for waterfowl and other wildlife. Expansion of Federal land retirement programs such as Waterbank and the CRP are needed to reduce pressures to drain or degrade wetland habitats. There is also a substantial land base currently in private ownership in the Dakotas that offers limited economic returns to private landowners, but makes or could make a major contribution to national and international migratory bird habitat requirements. The gradual transfer of habitat management rights on a substantial part of these lands through purchase in fee title and/or the taking of conservation easements is essential for the long-term wellbeing of waterfowl and other migratory birds that are dependent on prairie wetlands during part of their life cycles.
A cooperative agreement between the United States and Canada, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (U.S. Department of the Interior and Environment Canada 1986), represents the foremost effort currently underway to rebuild North American waterfowl populations. The plan seeks to restore populations to 1970-79 levels.
The plan is continental in scope, with major elements proposed for the Prairie Pothole Region. One goal is to protect and improve 445,000 ha of additional waterfowl habitat in the midcontinent region. a substantial part of that habitat could come from the Dakotas through perpetual easements on wetlands and grasslands and through acquisition in fee title. Other important elements include financial incentives to landowners to manage lands to produce waterfowl and through more intensive management of existing publicly owned lands.