Improving shallow lakes key to increasing duck numbers
Two new tactics to add more ducks to Minnesota's skies were the focus of a signing ceremony Tuesday attended by leaders of Ducks Unlimited, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and other conservation organizations.
The gathering, convened by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), celebrated the formal signing of the state's first-ever shallow lakes plan and the publication of new state guidelines for creating and managing temporary wetlands.
"Hunters want more ducks. We do, too," said Mark Holsten, DNR commissioner. "To make this happen, we are refocusing our sights on existing public ownership. Our goal is to improve what we have and create what we don't."
Holsten said the agency will accomplish the latter by increasing agency emphasis on building very shallow, food-filled seasonal wetlands on state-owned Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). The building and managing of seasonal wetlands is called moist soil management. These temporary wetlands can be powerful magnets for attracting migrating ducks in spring and fall and provide critical food resources for both ducks as well as shorebirds.
These two strategies will compliment the agency's other pillars of waterfowl management, which are providing refuge and feeding areas and creating multi-square mile complexes of grassland and water.
"The agency's focus on more aggressively and intensively managing what we own is the right move for the times," Holsten said. "We've spent decades building our WMA habitat base. Now we need to reinvest in making it the best."
Waterfowl leaders at Tuesday's ceremony supported the agency's shift in direction.
"We like it," said Ryan Heiniger, Ducks Unlimited director of conservation programs in Minnesota and Iowa. "Shallow lakes are the cornerstone of Minnesota's remaining habitat. Improving these basins meets the goals of the DNR's duck recovery plan and our Living Lakes conservation initiative."
"Our organization was founded on the importance of shallow lakes to Minnesota waterfowl," said Brad Nylin, executive director of the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. "It makes sense to maximize the potential of these assets."
The DNR's new shallow lakes plan is a 53-page blueprint for rebuilding waterfowl populations by focusing on managing 1,800 of Minnesota's shallow lakes. The plan's primary objectives are to:
- Assess the habitat quality of Minnesota's shallow lakes so management and protection efforts can be prioritized;
- Maximize waterfowl habitat efforts on all 200 shallow lakes that are currently Designated Wildlife Lakes or located completely within DNR or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ownership;
- Maximize waterfowl habitat on 1,553 shallow lakes that abut federal, state or county ownership;
- Increase wildlife management on 201 shallow lakes with public access sites but no adjacent public land, especially those already designated as Migratory Waterfowl Feeding and Resting Areas; and
- Increase awareness and protection of lakes that contain natural stands of wild rice, an important waterfowl food.
The DNR's new moist soil management guide is a 60-page document that details how to create and manage temporary wetlands that mimic naturally occurring seasonal wetlands. This document will accelerate the DNR's ability to design, fund and construct moist-soil units similar to those on the Thief Lake, Roseau River, Teal Lake and Lac Qui Parle wildlife management areas. It also will be a tool that other waterfowl-minded organizations can use.
Dave Schad, DNR Fish and Wildlife division director, said the moist soil guide will be a valuable resource inside and outside the agency.
"It's a cookbook for how to create temporary wetlands by manipulating water by the inch rather than the foot," Schad said. "We have trained our staff on these new guidelines. We're looking forward to getting projects on the ground this spring and summer."