Eastern Dakota's Crew Area All Wrapped Up

Written by Terry Liddick
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Terry LiddickWell, The Eastern Dakota Crew Area is wrapped up for the year. We finished on Sunday, May 18th. This year we flew the crew area in minimum time as we only experienced two weather days. That is amazing considering how the wind can blow in the Dakotas this time of year! We usually experience a few rain days, but wind gets us as much as anything, but not this year. With the two weather days, we were able to take the mandatory 2 days off in a 14-day stretch and yet still complete the survey.

As I reported earlier, South Dakota was fairly bleak. The state is particularly dry and conditions were good only in the extreme northern part of the state, between Aberdeen and the North Dakota border. Waterfowl numbers reflected that equally. The pairing remained good throughout the survey and timing seemed pretty well spot on, particularly with respect to mallards. The lone drake to pair ratio remained good until the last few days of the survey, when we started to pick up more lone drakes and some small flocks of 2-4 drakes.

The saddest part of the survey is the continuing decline of habitat in North Dakota. Each year, we see more and more oil development in the northwest part of the state and more and more ditching and draining in the eastern part of the state in the drift plain. Thank goodness for the coteau regions, as they seem to be intact for now and water conditions were good. North Dakota was dryer than expected, but had considerably more water than South Dakota. In South Dakota, conditions were fair at best and a lot of it looked poor. North Dakota saw some good habitat and a few segments of excellent habitat in the coteau, but much of the state was only fair as well.

There are several problems in North Dakota, which are worrisome for the future of waterfowl. In the drift plain, where there are still some pretty good wetlands, row crops are king and there is very little nesting habitat. Where there is some remaining grass, (mostly in the little bit of CRP that is left), there aren’t a lot of wetland. Many of the wetlands are ditched and drained and plowed through. Eastern North Dakota, in stratum 47, is pretty much a barren wasteland as far as waterfowl breeding habitat is concerned. In that stratum we fly many segments and do not count any waterfowl.

Western North Dakota is a different story, but looking just as bleak. There, energy development is king. There aren’t a lot of wetlands in this part of the state to begin with (the exception is the area around Minot and northwest of there towards Kenmare). But the energy development is astounding. The biggest problem I see with that is the huge amount of disturbance associated with it and the air quality. A hanging haze is evident from Minot west to the Montana border, resulting from the constant flow of pipe trucks and other oil field vehicles running up and down the section roads. When we encounter it from the east as we are flying toward the west, it looks like a fog bank is coming on an otherwise perfect weather day. Certainly there will be respiratory problems with people living there, as well as any waterfowl flying thorough it.

That said, waterfowl numbers and habitat conditions on the coteau were good and should produce a fair number of ducks. The area from just south of Jamestown down towards the South Dakota border was in pretty good shape and habitat there was fair to good in the drift plain, so it also should produce an average or near average number of ducks. It’s just disheartening to see what is happening in the rest of the state. So, that will do it for the Eastern Dakota’s crew area for the 2014 waterfowl breeding pair and habitat survey. Hopefully conditions to the north and west were better than what we encountered and I wish everyone an exciting fall season. See you next year.

The wind farms just keep growing.

The wind farms just keep growing. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

The ditching and draining continues.

The ditching and draining continues. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Row crops are bad for ducks.

Row crops are bad for ducks. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

More draining.

More draining. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

East of Bismarck.

East of Bismarck. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Completely drained for miles in eastern North Dakota.

Completely drained for miles in eastern North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Wind development is almost as pervasive as oil and gas.

Wind development is almost as pervasive as oil and gas. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Ditching and draining.

Ditching and draining. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

A little bit of water but not a lot of grass.

A little bit of water but not a lot of grass. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Wetland ditching and draining and oil development.

Wetland ditching and draining and oil development. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Constant plumes of dust from oil development on the section roads in western North Dakota.

Constant plumes of dust from oil development on the section roads in western North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Oil wells and gas flares as far as the eye can see in western North Dakota.

Oil wells and gas flares as far as the eye can see in western North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Drilling everywhere in northwest North Dakota.

Drilling everywhere in northwest North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Lake Sakakawea and Devils Lake continue to rise and no one seems to have connected this with wetland drainage yet.

Lake Sakakawea and Devils Lake continue to rise and no one seems to have connected this with wetland drainage yet. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

They just keep raising the dikes and road beds.

They just keep raising the dikes and road beds. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Between Aberdeen, South Dakota and Jamestown, North Dakota.

Between Aberdeen, South Dakota and Jamestown, North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS

Stratum 47, eastern North Dakota.
Stratum 47, eastern North Dakota.

Stratum 47, eastern North Dakota. Photo by Terry Liddick, USFWS