Western Dakota’s and Eastern Montana Survey Complete

Written by Terry Liddick
Monday, May 24, 2010

Terry LiddickIt has taken longer than most years, but the Western Dakota’s and Eastern Montana survey is finally complete. We battled rain and wind early on while in Pierre, SD, and that delayed us substantially. Once we got past Pierre and southwestern SD, however, things improved. We had a few more weather days after that, but never more than one at a time. Yesterday, staying with the theme of the month, we raced Mother Nature and were fortunate to complete the survey.

We had two lines remaining, the line running west along the US/Canadian border from north of Malta to the Rockies, and the line just south of that from near Cut Bank, MT, back east to Havre City, MT. When we took off, it looked as if we could get the high line done but may end up in Cut Bank. By the time we got to Cut Bank, the rain and snow stayed south enough that we could make Havre City. Amazingly, by the time we reached Havre, it looked as if we could still make Malta and we did! By the time we were done refueling, the rain began and the wind soon followed. But that was OK because at least the survey was now complete!

There were a few segments along the high line where conditions looked OK, fair at best, but that was a product of the recent rain. The remaining segments we flew along both lines were still very dry. We received nearly 2.5 inches of rain over the past few days. It has done little to improve the situation and is certainly too late to help with production in Montana this year. We saw several large flocks of mallards, shovelers and pintail drakes, and many more groups of four or five. Breeding appears to be over for the most part as we observed very few pairs. However, with the dry conditions, production will be low.

Overall, for this crew area, western North and South Dakota habitat looked fair to good. Although the western portion of the Dakotas is considerably dryer than east of the Missouri River, conditions looked pretty good and were average to maybe slightly above average in pockets. Production should be average in the western Dakotas. Montana, on the other hand, looked very dry and production there will be poor. Stock dams were low and most natural basins and wetlands were dry. Along many segments, 100% of wetland basins were dry and in very few segments did more than 50% of basins contain any water. Virtually none were full. Segments that had water in more than 50% wet basins resulted from late rain and were filled too late to help. The highlight for Montana was the segment that crossed Medicine Lake NWR. Conditions looked very good there.
It is raining and blowing again today, so tomorrow we hope to turn the plane south and begin heading home. The flying is done and the data have been submitted. We logged 70 hours and more than 7,000 miles during the survey. Many more hours than that were spent waiting for the wind and rain to stop or at least slow down!

Very dry along the border. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Very dry along the border. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Chief Mountain on the eastern boundary of Glacier NP. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Chief Mountain on the eastern boundary of Glacier NP. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Snow was falling in the high country this morning on the west end of the line and we were fortunate to get the survey finished! (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Snow was falling in the high country this morning on the west end of the line and we were fortunate to get the survey finished! Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Survey marker along the border (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Survey marker along the border. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Very dry conditions even after nearly 2 inches of recent rain. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Very dry conditions even after nearly 2 inches of recent rain. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Transition from the prairies to the Rockies. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Transition from the prairies to the Rockies. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Very near the border north of Malta. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Very near the border north of Malta. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Very dry north of Malta, en route to the border. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Very dry north of Malta, en route to the border. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Line through the trees is Montana/Alberta border. (Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Line through the trees is Montana/Alberta border. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS

Flying west towards Glacier National Park along the border.(Credit:  Terry Liddick, USFWS)

Flying west towards Glacier National Park along the border. Credit: Terry Liddick, USFWS