2015 Habitat Conditions
Despite an early spring over most of the survey area, habitat conditions during the 2015 WBPHS were similar to or poorer than last year. In many areas, the decline in habitat conditions was due to average to below-average annual precipitation, with the exception of portions of southern Saskatchewan and central latitudes of eastern Canada. The total pond estimate (Prairie Canada and U.S. combined) was 6.3 ± 0.2 million, which was 12% below the 2014 estimate of 7.2 ± 0.2 million and 21% above the long-term average of 5.2 ± 0.03 million.
Spring phenology was early across the traditional survey area, particularly in relation to 2013 and 2014. Much of the Canadian prairies had average to below-average winter precipitation and above-average temperatures. The best moisture conditions were centered in southern Saskatchewan, but nearly all of prairie Canada experienced below-normal spring precipitation. The 2015 estimate of ponds in Prairie Canada was 4.2 ± 0.1 million. This estimate was 10% below the 2014 estimate of 4.6 ± 0.2 million and 19% below the long-term average (3.5 ± 0.02 million). Annual winter precipitation was lower in the northern part of the survey area; the Parklands, however, continue to benefit from precipitation received in 2013 and 2014. The boreal region and Alaska exhibited drier conditions, but an early spring and the absence of flooding in important nesting areas should aid waterfowl production. Habitats in most of the Canadian portion of the traditional survey area were rated as fair or good this year; however, some areas received greater annual precipitation resulting in excellent conditions.
Following a relatively mild winter, the U.S. prairies also recorded an early spring, although precipitation since last summer was average to mostly below average. Habitat conditions declined relative to 2014 in Montana and the Dakotas despite significant rainfall in May, which came too late to benefit most nesting waterfowl. The 2015 pond estimate for the northcentral U.S. was 2.2 ± 0.09 million which was 16% below the 2014 estimate of 2.6 ± 0.1 million and 28% above the long-term average (1.7 ± 0.02 million).