Bret “T-Bone” Amundson recently interviewed the Vice President of Conservation at Delta Waterfowl, Joel Brice about their plan on Predator Management. Here is an excerpt of that interview.
For the full interview, including information about their new Waterfowl ID Guide, click here and scroll down to Week 15, segment 2 and segment 3.
*ABOUT DELTA WATERFOWL: When waterfowl populations crashed in the Dirty ‘30s, Minneapolis businessman and sportsman James Ford Bell set out to protect the waning resource. The founder of General Mills, Bell believed the best hope for sustaining waterfowl populations for future generations to enjoy was through a science-based understanding of the birds’ behavior. Read more here.
MNSJ: It seemed to me that more ducks were in Western Minnesota this year; did you hear that from anyone else?
Joel Brice. I did…one of the things that we’ve seen over time that seems to occur…when the duck populations are high and it’s dry in the Dakotas, you’ll start to have a lot of the ducks shifting over to the Minnesota side of the flyway where you have water all the time…
MNSJ: Let’s talk about North Dakota for a minute; you recently spent some time in a plane over North Dakota
Joel Brice: I did, you know it’s the season for getting ready for upcoming field research and next year we have another wave of predator management research going on. We’re moving our treatment sites to areas that we’re trapping into other areas of North Dakota; we’ve been working up in that greater Devils Lake Basin for a long string of years and we feel like we’ve reached the conclusion, at least over the last 4 years, in the types of areas that we’ve been working that the tool of trapping is significantly increasing nest success. Once again, the hatch rates where trapping is not taking place is really low and that’s what we’re looking for. So now we’re replicating that in other areas….the central part of the state, the greater Jamestown area and the also the Southeast corner. So there is no way better way to do ground searching and field verification than jumping up in an airplane.
MNSJ: In two areas where no trapping was taking place next success was less than 1%.
Joel Brice: Those results were in Manitoba. For some reason or another, you can take a landscape that has almost identical composition of grass and water in North Dakota and Manitoba, and the ducks in Manitoba are going to do consistently worse. The 4-year average there is way less than 5%. It’s hard to imagine that there are ducks there with averages like that.
MNSJ: Why is it worse there?
Joel Brice: That’s a good question…one of the characteristics of North and South Dakota is that we still have quite a bit of set aside grass through CRP, so I think there is still quite a bit of landscape not used by people, it’s not disturbed. But when you get up into Canada, even if there’s 30, 40, 50 percent grass on a township scale, it’s all used. Ditches are burned or grazed or bailed….the predator community is quite similar, the mammalian predator composition is pretty much the same, but in the parklands there are a lot more trees in that part of the country than there are in the Dakotas. So you also add in an avian component. We have magpies down here, we have crows, but there’s way more of both in Canada…I think that avian community lowers the hatch rate too.
MNSJ: What type of land will you be trapping on in North Dakota? Private land, public land?
Joel Brice: It’s a mix of both, but it’s well over 90% to 100% in a lot of this examples, private land…there might be a waterfowl production area or state wildlife management area, but predominantly it’s private.
MNSJ: With the heightened awareness of trapping due to the wolf hunting and trapping season, have you found any public opposition to this?
Joel Brice: To date, we have not. It’s probably a function of where we do the work, we’re out in the prairies, low human population….most land owners are happy or neutral to see Delta Waterfowl come to the door to help manage predators…the number one problem is raccoons causing damage to the old homestead…or the skunk on the porch eating cat food…or even more serious, losing horses or cows to what they would attribute to rabies, or coyote depredation with calves or lambs…we’re received quite positively.
MNSJ: A lot of people think of coyotes and fox, but it’s much broader than that…
Joel Brice: It is, the number 1 and number 2 predators that our trappers encounter are skunks and raccoons. 80% – 90% of the catch are skunks and raccoons. The interesting part of it is, today’s landscape…agriculture, fragmented habitat, abandoned farms, the present day landscape as opposed to pre-settlement favors those mid-sized predators like skunks and raccoons….these are predator species that make part of their living for a big chunk of the year finding duck nests.
MNSJ: And maybe that’s why people aren’t complaining, because you’re taking skunks off the landscape!
Joel Brice (laughs) Right…the prevalency rate of rabies with skunks is really high, even if they’re not expressing it, a lot of them may carry it. I think we’re performing a service in a lot of people’s eyes.
MNSJ: What do you do with the animals? Make skunk stew?
Joel Brice: (laughs) We encourage each and every one of the trappers to utilize the salvageable furs. We do make it a big priority to use these animals either in a research or monitoring…we coordinate with the Game and Fish department with collections…one year they wanted to take body condition measurements of red fox. A lot of early season raccoons, probably over half the catch of raccoons..that’s when there is real prime fur….the trappers will collect the skunk essence or the spray and sell it to outlets like Kinks, the lure manufacturing company.
MNSJ: Other than duck nesting, who else is benefiting?
Joel Brice: The most similar birds, the upland game birds are in the exact same fields, the exact same time, facing the exact same pressures. We’ve attempted to study pheasants in South Dakota concurrently with waterfowl, but the pheasants are slightly different in their habits than ducks and we found it challenging, so we haven’t had a clean look at what a tool like predator management does for pheasants…
MNSJ: When do your trappers do this?
Joel Brice: …from mid-March to Mid-July…obviously it’s still frozen in March…it gives the trappers a head start…before the ducks return.
MNSJ: What can the average guy out there to do help?
Joel Brice: If there are organizations out there that you believe in, your membership contributions, or above and beyond contributions, those should go into great programs that you believe in…otherwise there are nesting structures, if you are familiar with Delta…we put out hen houses…and of course the true wood duck box. As waterfowl hunters, the best favor we can do to ourselves is recruit new hunters. Other future conservationists that will carry the torch and buy the duck stamps and fund habitat conservation…
To hear the rest of the interview, click here and scroll down to Week 15, segment 2 and segment 3 for the Waterfowl ID Guide.