Bismarck, N.D. – Breeding duck surveys in May in North Dakota produced two bits of good news: the amount of water on the ground is exceptional, and duck numbers are pretty good.
According to the survey report, the water index was up from last year by 31.4 percent, and 128 percent above the average from 1948 to 2010. The wetland index is the second-highest in history, behind only 1999.
"Water conditions were exceptional throughout the state, with the abundant snow cover and significant spring rains filling most basins," according to the report. "Once again, observers noted many cases of water from multiple wetland basins merging to create a single water area. These situations would tend to reduce our total pond count, but we have not been able to quantify this impact at this time."
While total duck numbers were down 9.3 percent from last year, they were the ninth-highest on record and 85 percent above the 63-year average.
"The large number of ducks tallied during our survey is consistent with the ‘well above average' populations we have been carrying since 1994 following wet conditions that have been in place since the summer of 1993."
The breeding survey showed increases in numbers of three ducks: wigeon (15 percent), blue-winged teal (12 percent), and pintails (4 percent). The pintail count was the highest since 1970.
The mallard count was down 4 percent from last year, though it was the sixth-highest on record. Shovelers were down 13 percent from last year, when they were at record highs.
"Indices for all other species were below that of 2010, with the most significant decreases for ruddy duck (down 62 percent), lesser scaup (down 58 percent), and redhead (down 33 percent)," according to the survey report. "Last year (2010), redheads and ruddy ducks were at record highs and scaup numbers were also well above average, so these declines are not surprising."
The survey also noted declines in duck nesting cover.
Observers noted large tracts of grassland/CRP that had been converted to crops – or were in the process of being converted – between last year and this year.
"Expiring CRP contracts and high commodity prices driven by biofuel demands and other economic factors are driving these conversions," according to the report.
In 2007, there were nearly 3.4 million acres of CRP in North Dakota. Today, there are a little more than 2.6 million acres – a drop of about 22 percent.
"Projections are that another 0.387 million acres will be lost in 2010-2011 and 1.098 million acres will be lost in 2012-13," the report says. "This loss of critical nesting cover will be disastrous for breeding ducks and hunting opportunities in North Dakota.
"Additionally, wind energy and oil developments continue to fragment prairie grasslands throughout the Missouri Coteau and the Drift Prairie. These developments can only further reduce waterfowl production in North Dakota."