How To

Waterfowl Habitat Projects for Your Property

Habitat projects create valuable breeding grounds for waterfowl. Image by Scott Ruduner.

Habitat projects create valuable breeding grounds for waterfowl. Image by Scott Ruduner.

If you’re like us, and we know you are, you do what you can to support waterfowl and waterfowl habitat. Organizations like Ducks Unlimited (DU) and Delta Waterfowl spend millions of dollars in donations annually to preserve and support waterfowl habitat and breeding grounds. Many of us volunteer with these organizations, whether at a banquet, or out in the field with duck banding, or other activities. So ask yourself, what can you do?

Money, money, money

Money makes the world go ‘round and it also keeps the conservation train rolling. When you attend a banquet fundraiser, be it for Delta, DU, or another group, a large portion of that money is going to projects in your area. Your membership dues along with any other money you donate does as well. Quite often when you wonder what can you do to help, just attending the banquet is helping. Those raffle tickets you buy to win the prizes donated to the group fills the coffers and helps. And you never know, you may just win some Hard Core decoys, and who wouldn’t want that?

“What the non-hunting public often doesn’t realize is that hunters are the consummate conservationists,” said Hilary Dyer, editor of Waterfowl and Retriever. “We pour so much time and effort and money into supporting and preserving wildlife. Conservation organizations like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited are the hunters’ first line of defense when it comes to making sure future generations will enjoy the same opportunities we do. They understand that without suitable habitat, duck and goose populations can’t thrive, and that proper management is a legacy we can leave to make sure the great waterfowling tradition lives on.”

The Prairie Pothole Region is considered by many to be the most valuable source of waterfowl habitat in North America.

The Prairie Pothole Region is considered by many to be the most valuable source of waterfowl habitat in North America. Image courtesy Ducks Unlimited.

So where does that money go? Good question. Who wouldn’t want to see where the money they donate is being spent? DU goes to great lengths to show where your money is going. They have a page of their website with links to each state where you can view sample projects and read a state conservation report. They also have information on the top national priorities for projects. Topping that list is the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America.

“The Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region are No. 1 on the 25 most important and threatened waterfowl habitats on the continent,” DU said on its website. “The PPR provides important breeding habitat for pintails, mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads.”

One of the big things going on these days is the 2013 Farm Bill. As of today, the bill has passed the Senate. It is now going to debate in the House of Representatives. Within the bill is funding to preserve valuable habitat, especially in the PPR.

“DU supports agricultural policy that conserves soil, water, wetlands, grasslands, and forests upon which both people and wildlife depend,” DU said on their website. “The 2013 Farm Bill is the most effective tool for conserving wildlife habitat on private land, and it’s DU’s objective that both waterfowl and their habitats benefit from this policy.”

But what can I do?

That’s a good question. You can, of course, volunteer for lots of things, but what can you do on your own land? The answer is quite a bit. Own some property that once held water? Why not restore the wetland? Waterfowler John Westenbarger, of Gaylord, Michigan wanted to do just that on his property, so he researched and found grant money to help defray the costs.

Waterfowler John Westenbarger worked with government agencies to develop a waterfowl habitat on his property. Image by John Westenbarger.

Waterfowler John Westenbarger worked with government agencies to develop a waterfowl habitat on his property. Image by John Westenbarger.

“There wasn’t any hassle over permits or anything, unless you are near a stream or river,” Westenbarger said. “If there is a watershed around, then it has to be permitted. Mine are in fallow fields, so no problem. I flood them via a well, they are better if the soil is clay.”

Westenbarger worked with his local representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program. The program provides funding and assistance for wildlife habitat projects. He also found support and additional funding from his local Soil Conservation office.

“They will put up funding for food plots and habitat too,” he said. “I showed them that you could make a waterfowl food plot and they liked it. They are now putting up some additional funding for expansion of the original project.”

Remember when you were a kid and fire was thought of as a solely destructive force? Hard Core Prostaff member Scott Ruduner from Merced, California, recently assisted in another type of habitat project, a controlled burn. Controlled burns knock overgrown vegetation back down and create great avenues for new, fresh plant growth that can be invaluable for wildlife habitat. New growth is a great source of food for waterfowl as well as providing new nesting habitat and returning valuable nutrients to the soil.

“Until recent times, fire was a natural part of life for our native woodlands, wetlands, and prairies,” said Tallgrass Restoration, a Midwest company that helps restore native grasslands and habitats. “Ecosystems native to the Midwest depend upon periodic fire events to rejuvenate growth and ensure long-term survival. Modern tendencies to suppress fire allow invasive plants (weeds) to out-compete our native grasses and forbs, therefore reducing plant and animal diversity.”

Food plot seed for waterfowl is readily available. Image courtesy Hard Core Decoys.

Food plot seed for waterfowl is readily available. Image courtesy Hard Core Decoys.

Food plots

You didn’t think food plots were just for deer and turkeys, did you? Aside from native and agricultural plants, there are commercially available food plot products specifically designed for waterfowl.

Evolved Harvest designed a seed blend with the help of Phil Robertson and the Duck Commander crew to help create a favorable habitat and a stable food source for migratory game birds. They combined white grain milo, buckwheat and white proso millet into a blend to help attract and hold your birds on your property. There are many other waterfowl-specific food plot seeds out there as well.

You must check with your local game laws before using food plots for waterfowl and especially before hunting over them. There are restrictions to doing so, depending on where and when you’re hunting.

Helping waterfowl habitat on your own property is rewarding, knowing that not only are you building a better hunting spot for you and your friends, but you’re also doing your part to conserve and protect waterfowl hunting for future generations. It’s Not Easy!

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Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.