The Food Security Act of 1985 contained provisions that affected wildlife conservation nationwide. Two provisions that most benefited waterfowl populations in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) were the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and “Swampbuster” (wetland conservation). Permanent cover established under the CRP provides attractive nesting habitat for upland-nesting ducks that is more secure than other major habitats. Swampbuster has prevented drainage of wetlands vital to breeding duck pairs. In 2007 many CRP contracts will expire. Deliberations will begin in late 2006 regarding the next Farm Bill. The United States Department of Agriculture needs sound biological information and scientific analyses to help establish wildlife priorities in the Farm Bill. We used data from breeding duck population and wetland habitat surveys to develop models for 5 species of upland-nesting ducks and applied these models to >2.6 million wetlands in a digital database for the PPR in North and South Dakota, USA. We used geographic information systems techniques to identify locations in the PPR where CRP cover would be accessible to the greatest number of nesting hens. We then summarized distribution of current CRP contracts relative to distribution of upland-breeding ducks. We also used our models to predict change in the breeding duck population (landscape carrying capacity) that might occur if certain wetlands were exempt from the Swampbuster provision. Our analyses showed that 75% of CRP contracts as of July 2005 were in areas accessible to high or medium numbers of breeding ducks and 25% were in areas of low populations. We suggest a method to prioritize CRP extensions and reenrollment of current contracts or target new contracts to maintain or increase duck production. Additionally, our models suggested that if the Swampbuster provision were removed from future Farm Bills and protected wetland were drained, this area of the PPR could experience a 37% decline in the waterfowl populations we studied.
Conservation Reserve Program
Prairie Pothole Region
United States Department of Agriculture