Prairie and Wetlands Management

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Current Research

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Oil and Natural Gas Development

Extraction of oil and gas via unconventional methods (e.g. hydraulic fracturing) is becoming an important aspect of energy production worldwide. This is evidenced by recent expansions of unconventional oil and gas development in some regions of North America, such as the Northern Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada. One striking example is development in the Williston Basin, which includes the U.S. states of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The bulk of conventional petroleum drilling and recovery began in the Basin during the 1950s. Since about 2007, there has been renewed interested in the Williston Basin, which has led to the rapid expansion of drilling activities. Currently, there are more than 10,000 producing wells in the Williston Basin and estimates suggest that the upward trend in new wells will continue for 20 to 50 years. We are working closely with our state and federal agency partners to develop research projects that are focused on understanding the relationship of this recent development to other natural resources throughout the region. NPWRC is particularly focused on quantifying patterns and trends in wildlife populations, and their habitats, associated with oil and gas development.

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Pelicans and Other Colonial Nesting Birds

Because American White Pelicans ( Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) and other colonial waterbirds concentrate their nesting activities at a few sites, these species are highly vulnerable to diseases, predation, weather events, collisions with nearby structures, and other disturbances.  At the turn of the twentieth century, colonial waterbirds played an important role in the conservation of birds in the United States. This early conservation movement inspired the creation of refuges and conservation laws to protect nesting colonies in the northern Great Plains and throughout the nation. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1908 designating Chase Lake and surrounding habitats in south-central North Dakota as a National Wildlife Refuge, primarily to protect a persecuted nesting colony of American White Pelicans.  This nesting colony would eventually grow to support one of the largest American White Pelican colonies in North America, in addition to thousands of nesting cormorants, gulls, herons, egrets, ibises, and terns.  Many states in the U.S. have identified information on colonial waterbird distribution and populations as a conservation priority.  In part, this concern reflects declining populations for some species or, conversely, reflects increasing populations that escalate conflicts at landfills, aquaculture facilities, cropland, recreation sites, and urban areas.  Sustained productivity from waterbird colonies in the northern Great Plains is important to the health of these species.  Currently, researchers at Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are identifying factors (e.g., climate, disease) that potentially limit reproductive success and recruitment of pelicans at Chase Lake and elsewhere in the northern Great Plains, and are developing improved methods to estimate nest numbers and monitor productivity of pelicans and other nesting waterbirds.

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