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2015 Waterfowl Forecast

Reprinted from Ducks Unlimited.

Another large fall flight is expected as waterfowl populations remain at high levels.

Central Flyway
The majority of Central Flyway waterfowl are raised on the prairies of the United States and Canada as well as in the Western Boreal Forest and the Arctic. Saskatchewan consistently ranks at the top of North America’s most important waterfowl breeding areas, and this year was no exception. More than 13.5 million breeding ducks were surveyed across the vast grasslands and parklands of this province—similar to the 2014 estimate and 74 percent above the long-term average.
DU Canada biologist Kelly Rempel reports that despite variable wetland conditions, another strong waterfowl breeding effort was observed in Saskatchewan this year. “After promising early-season conditions due to abundant carryover water, wetlands started to draw down and expose mudflats by early July,” Rempel says. “Isolated thunderstorms have since improved wetland conditions in localized areas, dropping several inches of rain in some cases. Waterfowl production appears to be very good, with far more early broods observed by our field staff than in past years.”
In the north-central United States, almost 10 million breeding ducks were surveyed in 2015. In the eastern Dakotas, breeding ducks decreased 19 percent this spring, but remained 42 percent above the long-term average. In the western Dakotas and Montana, duck numbers were down 25 percent from the previous year’s total, but remained 60 percent above the long-term average.
In late May and June, widespread rainfall greatly improved wetland conditions for breeding ducks across much of the northern plains. “I expect that duck production in 2015 will be on par with or only slightly reduced from what we’ve seen over the past five years,” says Dr. Johann Walker, DU’s director of conservation programs in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. “Ducks that settled in the Dakotas and Montana encountered dry conditions early in the breeding season, but late-spring and early-summer rains filled temporary and seasonal wetlands, resulting in a strong nesting effort and good brood production. Early field reports indicate that broods are abundant in the Missouri Coteau, James River Lowlands, Devils Lake Basin, and Montana Hi-Line.

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“On the habitat conservation side, although losses of wetlands and grasslands are ongoing and most of the crucial wetland and grassland habitat remains unprotected, we continue to make great progress toward our conservation goals, and demand for conservation programs remains strong,” Walker says. “Reallocated federal duck stamp funds and DU-sponsored North American Wetlands Conservation Act grants matched by philanthropic donations helped the USFWS and DU perpetually protect over 72,000 acres of high-priority waterfowl breeding habitat in the Dakotas and Montana during the past year.”
The goose population outlook in the Central Flyway is generally good. Average to above-average production was expected among Canada geese and white-fronted geese in this flyway. Variable production was reported among lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese, but large fall flights of these abundant birds are expected in 2015.