Survey ends in Western Dakotas and Montana – Looks Good

Written by Ray Bentley
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Photo of Ray Bentley.Peter Fasbender and I completed our aerial survey of the Western Dakotas and Montana today. Overall, habitat conditions across all of eastern Montana and the western Dakotas is significantly improved over 2008 and over the previous 5 years. Nearly all primary and secondary river systems showed evidence of high flows during early spring. Upland vegetation looked great over most of the region. In southwest SD and western ND, habitat was ranked as good and excellent. These regions displayed 75-100% of basins containing water – most at full capacity. In the higher elevation terrain of eastern MT, the number of ponds (all types) and stream drainages is reduced compared to the Dakotas, however the area was still ranked as Fair/Good/Excellent in relation to what is typical. Pond numbers were up from both 2008 and the 10-year average on nearly all transects. The combination of good residual vegetation from 2008, a large increase in overall early spring precipitation, and the resulting response of 2009 upland vegetation has produced quite favorable waterfowl nesting conditions in the western Dakotas and eastern Montana. Brood habitat is expected to be good and overall waterfowl production should be very good for 2009.

Typical streambed of front range drainages, near Browning, Montana.

Tributary of Milk River Northeast of Browning, Montana.

Flooded artificial impoundment typical of Montana 2009 high line. Credit: P. Fasbender

Milk River with full flow north of Havre, Montana. Credit: R. Bentley

Full basin wetland complex northeast of Malta, Montana provides good nesting/brood habitat in 2009. Credit: P. Fasbender