Native grassland communities controlled by public agencies become increasingly important to the maintenance of many wildlife species as privately owned grasslands are destroyed or degraded for farming, mining, and development. In turn, wildlife on publicly owned grasslands are affected by the management techniques practiced by local managers. We studied the effects of grazing and prescribed burning on upland-nesting ducks and the structure and type of vegetation from 1980 to 1988 at the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in northwestern North Dakota. Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), the most abundant species at Lostwood NWR, had lower (P < 0.05) annual nest densities on experimental and control fields in the later years than in the early years of the study. Spring burning reduced (P = 0.016) nest densities of gadwall (A. strepera). Spring grazing reduced nest densities of gadwall (P = 0.014), and blue-winged teal (A. discors, P = 0.023). Nest density of gadwall increased (P = 0.018) after spring grazing was terminated. On the summer burn/spring graze fields, blue-winged teal had lower (P = 0.010) nest densities after treatments (1987-88) than before treatments (1980-81). Nest success was high (mallard 34%, gadwall 45%, blue-winged teal 31%) but was not influenced (P 0.16) by the burning and grazing treatments. During the study, the amount of grass/brush increased, whereas the amount of brush and brush/grass decreased on control and treatment fields. During the years with burning and grazing, short vegetation increased and tall vegetation decreased. On the spring graze fields, 1 year after grazing ended the vegetation was similar to that on the control fields. The spring burn and summer burn/spring graze fields recovered more slowly. Brushy species such as western snowberry (Symphoricarpos occidentalis) provided attractive nesting habitat for many upland-nesting waterfowl species, especially mallard, gadwall, American wigeon (A. americana), and northern pintail (A. acuta). Habitat needs of additional species of wildlife that depend on grasslands may need to be considered when deciding how to manage habitat.
Additional publication details
Effects of grazing and burning on densities and habitats of breeding ducks in North Dakota