The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) resulted in the conversion of about 1.9 million ha of cropland to perennial grass cover in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeastern Montana by 1992. Many wildlife managers believed this cover would provide benefits to wildlife, including upland nesting ducks. During 1992-1995, we evaluated success of 5 duck species nesting in CRP fields and nearby Waterfowl Production Areas (WPA) throughout the region. We examined relationships between daily survival rates (DSR) of duck nests in CRP cover and landscape-level habitat and population parameters. We computed DSR of duck nests in other major cover types in our study area from data collected during 1980-1984 (pre-CRP) and 1990-1994 (CRP) periods. We then applied recruitment models to estimate duck production in our study area during peak CRP years (1992-1997) and compared these results with those that simulated the scenario in which cropland was in place of CRP cover (i.e., the CRP had not occurred). DSR were higher in all habitats combined during the CRP period compared to the pre-CRP period. Regressions of DSR in CRP cover on the percent of each study plot in perennial cover and geographic location were significant (P < 0.01) for 4 of 5 duck (Anas spp.) species. Estimated nest success and recruitment rates for the 5 species combined during 1992-1997 were 46% and 30% higher, respectively, with CRP cover on the landscape compared to a scenario where we simulated cropland in place of CRP. Our model estimated an additional 12.4 million recruits from our study area to the fall flight as a consequence of the CRP during 1992-1997. Our results document benefits to 5 duck species in the northern plains associated with a farm program that provided financial incentives to landowners for planting undisturbed grass cover as an alternative to annual crops.
Additional publication details
Impact of the Conservation Reserve Program on duck recruitment in the U.S. Prairie Pothole Region