Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Ducks Unlimited Canada, 9615-105 Street, Grande Prairie, AB, T8V 6V5 Canada
The Peace River region of northwestern Alberta is comprised of some 21 million ha of flat to rolling terrain characterized by numerous large molting/staging wetlands and pockets of pothole-like habitat. From a botanical perspective, the Peace River parklands are quite similar to the parklands of central Alberta. As in central Alberta, this region was once dominated by aspen/grassland communities but the suppression of fire has led to an expansion of the aspen component.
Recent, Ducks Unlimited research and surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service surveys reveal that the Peace River region possesses some extremely productive waterfowl habitat. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) pair densities can be as high as 11.58/km2. Wetland numbers range from 5.79 to 19.31/km2 and are generally stable from year-to-year. This stability in wetland numbers is very important to breeding waterfowl in Alberta as this area serves as a valuable breeding reserve during drought-like conditions on the southern prairies.
With its rich soils and good moisture conditions, the Peace River region has been attractive for agricultural development. The generally sloped nature of the topography has facilitated the construction of both legal and illegal drainage ditches making drainage the most important threat to wetlands in this region.
Ducks Unlimited, under the auspices of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and in partnership with Alberta Fish and Wildlife, is managing the wetland resource in the Peace River region. A multi-faceted waterfowl management program has been designed to ameliorate the impacts of agricultural development using the following steps: (1) small to mid-sized wetlands will be secured, created, or otherwise maintained through a water control program; (2) restoration/creation will be employed in areas with previously high wetland densities. Using a large-scale single-basin approach with traditional water control structures and a single multi-basin approach with simple ditch plugs; (3) where pair populations are high and upland nesting cover limiting, peripheral nesting cover will be managed (e.g., creating a backflood zone); (4) wetlands critical to Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator) will be secured and managed and; (5) key staging and molting wetlands in the forested biome will be secured and protected.
This wetland habitat program will not only give us the ability to manage a variety of waterfowl needs but will also provide the long-term ability to influence and direct habitat management by government agencies.