Survey of Eastern Dakotas completed – better than 2008

Written by John Solberg and Thom Lewis
Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Photo of John Solberg.Our previous (May 9) report addressed survey activities and habitat conditions in the area south of Huron, SD.  As we progressed northward, the benefits of precipitation received during the winter of ’08-’09 were obvious. From Aberdeen, SD north to the Canada border, water levels and numbers of basins were generally considered good to excellent and significantly improved since 2008. Nesting cover though, is variable. Dry conditions last year allowed many of the smaller, shallower basins to be “tilled through.” This practice destroys plant communities associated with wetlands and leaves little or no residual nesting cover the following year. Add to those conditions over 800,000 acres of CRP lost in the Dakotas since 2007 and an additional 400,000+ contract acres scheduled to expire in 2009, and you have degraded and further fragmented nesting cover over significant portions of the landscape. Fortunately, the increase in the number of basins with water, particularly north of Aberdeen, should provide suitable nesting sites within reasonable distances to wetlands, though nesting success and brood survival may be reduced.

Preliminary indications are that breeding waterfowl have responded in a strong, positive manner to the increased wetland numbers in northern South Dakota and North Dakota.  As survey data are compiled, we expect significant increases in the waterfowl breeding population in this region compared to 2008.

We completed our 2009 coverage on 27 May in the northeast corner of North Dakota. The aerial effort in the Eastern Dakotas required 15 days of flying over a 19 day period. Our data has been checked and submitted to our Population Assessment group in Maryland. After verification and analysis, it will be combined with information from Alaska, the Northwest Territories, and all points in between to answer the question, “what is the continental waterfowl breeding population for 2009?”

Greener pastures for breeding waterfowl in North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Flooded unharvested corn fields in North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Wetlands with cover in northeast North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Hayed uplands high density permanent wetlands with little cover in northeast North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Getting the crop planted in North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Wetland drainage in southeast North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Seriously flooded area. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

North Dakota grassland ponds. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS

Lonely pothole in North Dakota. Photo by: Thomas E. Lewis/USFWS