Northern shovelers take flight at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Prairie Pothole wetlands are at risk from a number of factors. Photo: Tom Koerner/USFWS.
Photos: South Dakota Photoset on Flickr
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The mallard feeding at the local park. The flock of northern shovelers passing overhead. The nesting pair of blue-winged teal. All are common ducks and all depend on the rich habitat of North America’s wetlands – habitat that may be affected by climate change.
The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) - named for its many glacial depressions, commonly referred to as potholes - is seasonally home to many wetland bird species. The region is often referred to as North America’s “duck factory” because the potholes support more than 50 percent of the continent’s breeding waterfowl. South Dakota contains a large portion of the remaining wetlands in the PPR, which contribute significantly to annual production of wetland birds, including migratory waterfowl.
As European settlers moved into the PPR, more than half of its potholes were lost. Subsequent generations drained potholes at a rapid rate to create fields fit for agriculture. The once plentiful prairie wetlands declined in number.
The establishment of many national wildlife refuges since the 1930s, and waterfowl production areas (WPAs) since the 1960s, has helped to preserve habitat as many of the PPR’s wetlands were drained.
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) works with partners like Ducks Unlimited to protect vital waterfowl habitat in the PPR by purchasing permanent easements from willing landowners protecting covered wetlands in perpetuity from draining, filling, or burning.