Wetlands and farm ponds across the Midwest are renowned for their excellent waterfowl habitat. While these habitat acreages may be dwindling, populations are on the rise according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual waterfowl survey conducted in May and June.
The FWS reported 48.6 million breeding ducks in the survey area – a seven percent increase from last year’s survey and an all-time high.
“Early indications were that the mild and dry conditions experienced across North America this past fall and winter would negatively impact spring pond conditions and allow increases in grassland conversion rates, ultimately impacting nesting efforts this season,” Dale Humburg, Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist said in a recent press release. “Strong returning duck populations and late spring precipitation have brightened prospects for 2012 duck production. If nesting and brood-rearing conditions are favorable over the next few months, we could see another strong fall flight.”
As expected, Habitat conditions in surveyed waterfowl breeding areas returned average to below-average moisture and a significant decrease in wetland habitat on the grasslands of both the U.S. and Canada. FWS reported a 32 percent drop in ponds from last season’s survey. In the north-central United States pond estimates dropped 49 percent from 3.2 million to 1.7 million.
Of the ten species surveyed, the Scaup showed the greatest improvement at 21 percent. The Green-winged teal wasn’t far behind at 20 percent. Just two species experienced declining numbers. The northern pintail showed a 21 percent decline and redheads a 6 percent decline in the current survey.
Although populations are increasing in most cases, many involved with the survey believe current standards aren’t enough.
“As good as the population news is this week, waterfowl and wetland habitats continue to face significant long-term threats,” said Dale Hall, DU CEO in a recent release. “The Farm Bill and North American Wetlands Conservation Act are up for renewal by Congress this year and both are crucial to our ability to conserve this critical habitat. We are also fighting to increase our investment in wetlands conservation by raising the price of the federal duck stamp.”
Habitat decreases in the northern U.S. continue to threaten nesting ducks and future hunting opportunities. North Dakota Game and Fish reported a major decrease in grassland alongside a 30 percent decrease in CRP acreage since 2007.
“As a waterfowl hunter, I am always optimistic. As a waterfowl biologist, I am realistic but committed to the conservation challenges ahead.”