Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Ducks Unlimited Canada, 5015-49 Street, Camrose, AB, T4V 1N5 Canada
Wetland development and management techniques have historically been used to enhance waterfowl production throughout the aspen parkland of central Alberta. In response to drastic declines in waterfowl populations, the NAWMP is executing an aggressive habitat initiative to maintain, restore, and enhance waterfowl habitat in target production landscapes.
The parkland supports a wetland habitat base of critical importance to the North American waterfowl resource. The geography of the region has resulted in high wetland density and a diversity of wetland types. Pond densities exceeding 19.3/km2 and waterfowl breeding pair numbers exceeding 38.6/km2 are not uncommon in primary production areas.
Expansion and intensification of agriculture in the parkland is producing extensive changes to waterfowl habitat; 60% of the wetland area has been lost since 1900. Drainage continues with an annual wetland loss of 0.5%. A recent survey indicates losses of 1.4%/annum occurring in one major production area. The decline in the wetland habitat base is contributing to the decline in populations of some duck species.
The NAWMP seeks to restore waterfowl breeding populations to the levels experienced during the mid-1970's. Planning and delivery of the NAWMP program involves the delineation of homogeneous habitat landscapes within the parkland. Within the landscapes, factors limiting waterfowl production are identified and appropriate habitat initiatives are prescribed. Limiting factors include the quantity, quality, diversity, and distribution of wetlands and nesting cover. Wetland developments are integrated with complementary upland habitat initiatives to maximize benefits for waterfowl and other wildlife.
Wetland developments include brood water, pair water/spring staging, and habitat restoration and protection of critical molting and staging habitat. Brood water projects are strategically located to address limitations related to brood survival. Pair water/spring staging projects involve the management of spring backfloods to enhance spring staging values, increase habitat for local breeding populations, improve nesting cover, and increase forage production for landowners. Wetland restorations include both temporary and permanent wetland types. Key molting and staging wetlands are secured and enhanced as appropriate. The majority of wetland projects are small-scale, low-cost, opportunistic efforts involving ditch-plugs and low-level dikes, primarily on purchase and lease properties acquired under the NAWMP for nesting-cover development.
More complex and expensive engineering projects, including backflood irrigation, brood water development, and key wetland enhancement are targeted to address specific wetland limitations. These are used to facilitate and complement the implementation of upland programs in critical waterfowl production areas.
NAWMP waterfowl population goals are based on the assumption of a stable wetland habitat base. Continued wetland loss and degradation will seriously affect the potential of achieving these goals and will further compromise the waterfowl resource. An ecosystem approach to landscape management which increases biological diversity through complementary wetland and upland habitat initiatives is required to maintain and restore waterfowl populations. All waterfowl habitat requirements must be considered if NAWMP goals are to be achieved.