Managing anything with 246 parts is a challenge. Imagine being the parent of 246 children, the direct boss of 246 people, or the manager of 246 waterfowl production areas. In all cases, you need all the help you can get.
The land managers at Morris Wetland Management District, which comprises 246 waterfowl production areas (WPAs) in western Minnesota, have found such helpa new device they call the management prioritization tool.
As its name implies, the tool is designed to help managers give priority to the most important conservation needs in the district. It is based in large part on the Habitat and Population Evaluation Team (HAPET) regional models described on the opposite page.
Weve always prioritized, says wildlife biologist Sara Vacek, but its been sort of vague and in the managers head. This tool takes that mental model that our managers had and gets it down on paper, and applies it evenly to all units in the district.
Vacek, who has spent her entire 11year U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service career at Morris WMD, worked with former district manager Steve Delehanty, Midwest Regional biologists, HAPET staff, state agencies and the U.S.
Geological Survey to develop the tool in recent years.
She basically sold me on what the project could do, says current district manager Bruce Freske. She kept it going.
In essence, the tool ranks the districts WPAs based on a range of factors and gives each WPA a score.
These scores tell us how important a WPA is to us and help us decide where we will direct our limited resources, says Freske. We have a good idea what are our top 10 or bottom 10 WPAs, but ... this means there are still 226 WPAs which we struggle as a staff on how to direct our management efforts. Now we have a tool that helps us to do this.
Among the factors the tool weighs in ranking the WPAs and their surrounding landscapes are: duck pairs per square mile; percentage that is grass or upland habitat; diversity of wetlands present; percentage of natural wetlands present; size; effective conservation area; amount of native prairie; proximity to human development; grassland bird suitability; and presence of state and federal endangered species.
A great egret wades in a marsh at Pomme De Terre River Waterfowl Production Area, a part of Morris Wetland Management District in western Minnesota. The district is using a new tool to rank its WPAs habitat.
Credit: Ron Rosen
The district uses the tool basically all the time it considers WPA management actions, says Freske. We now find it easier to agree as a staff on which areas to target for prescribed fire or grazing and which areas will receive less management effort or perhaps a management tool such as haying, which we consider less desirable than grazing or burning but is acceptable on a lowerpriority WPA.
The tool has surprised Morris WMD managers on occasion. The Krantz Lake WPAwhich for various reasons had not received any habitat management for more than 10 yearsranked 12th last year. At first, we thought there was a problem with the tool. However, closer review showed that the site is over 1,000 acres, has a lot of other protected lands nearby, has a good interspersion of wetlands and grasslands, contains over 400 acres of native prairie, and has sandhill cranes nesting on it, Freske says. As a result of the priority tool, we are now once again directing attention to this important WPA.
The tool is useful in tandem with the districts habitat management plan (HMP), says Vacek. The HMP tells us how to manage. The tool helps us decide where to manage.
The initial reaction to the Morris WMD tool among other land managers often is that they already know their areas, Freske says. But they might notespecially when, like us, you have 246 areas over eight counties. I havent even stepped foot on many of those areas. How am I supposed to make informed decisions about them without a tool like this?
That said, Freske is quick to point out that the tool guides decisions; it doesnt dictate them.