Take Home Messages

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Written by Joe Sands
Sunday, May 25, 2014

Photo of Joe Sands.It is May 25th and the survey is over. One last night in a hotel for me and then Jim Bredy and I part ways. He will head for eastern Canada to start a Canada goose survey. I have a flight to Portland and a reunion with Jessica, Morgan, Jackson, and three dogs. I’ll be on a plane without a flight suit, headset, and data voice recorder for the first time since May 2. Tuesday is back to the office in Region 1 and back to work for the waterfowl and migratory gamebird resources of the Pacific Region.

There’s a labor of love to being a wildlife biologist. You have to have a desire to be up early and in late. I am not sure how many hours of my life I have spent driving in the dark, either going to or coming from work across dusty South Texas back roads, along the river in the Middle Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico, and through the mountains and valleys of Western Oregon. If you give yourself the opportunity, there is always the possibility of going somewhere new, breathing in a new landscape, and meeting new friends. The Breeding Waterfowl Survey takes over 3 weeks to complete. It is a long time to spend away from family; but the opportunity to count waterfowl throughout southern Alberta is too much to resist. This is a labor of love after all. What a landscape Alberta presents: broad prairies running up to the cathedrals of the Rockies, agricultural parklands on the boreal border, and peat bogs, beaver ponds, and deep blue lakes in the great expanse of the boreal forest. It is invigorating.

I have counted waterfowl from the air before—midwinter surveys in New Mexico and in Oregon and Washington. However, this was my first opportunity to count from the air during the “BPop.“ I take being selected as an honor, and take the job seriously. The BPop survey is crucial to waterfowl management across the United States. It is challenging, important work.

Here are some thoughts from my first year as an aerial observer for the BPop:

  1. Not all wetlands are created equal. Proximity to adequate upland cover is critical to nesting hens. Thus, protecting upland cover around a wetland is probably as important as protecting the wetland itself.
  2. As an Oregon State graduate, I may be biased, but I will say that I think that beavers are important for ducks in the boreal forest. Beaver dams create duck ponds. Never underestimate the persistence of a wily rodent.
  3. Wigeon might be the perfect duck, and I don’t know why.
  4. This one echoes the first. One of the most effective actions we can take for waterfowl conservation is to preserve wetlands and the upland habitats around them. Anyone can contribute to wetland conservation by buying a Duck Stamp. Duck Stamp dollars contribute directly to wetland conservation, you need one to legally hunt waterfowl in the U.S., and they get you in to National Wildlife Refuges for free year round. Buy one for you and your kids.
  5. I wish all other crews safe flights and travels as they begin to make their way back home, or continue on with their surveys.

We work at this job because it is a labor of love. I wouldn’t have it any other way. See ya next spring.