Critical waterfowl breeding areas, Prairie Potholes face new threat

Almost half of the U.S. duck and geese population is hatched in or near small wetlands in the upper Midwest. Known as Prairie Potholes, these wetlands are some of the most endangered habitat in the country – and today, they are facing a new threat in the rapid expansion of the biofuel industry.

The 50th anniversary of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's Small Wetlands Program in 2008 is a timely reminder of the threat to wetlands – and also what can be done to help. Under the program, millions of acres of essential waterfowl and grassland songbird habitat in the 300,000-square-mile Prairie Pothole Region have been protected.


The Small Wetlands Program was started in 1958 when wetland losses escalated dramatically as a result of Department of Agriculture subsidized drainage projects. Since then, three million acres of wetlands have been purchased with money raised through the sale of $15 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamps, commonly known as "Duck Stamps."

The Service uses GPS systems to identify key habitat for individual species of waterfowl and endangered grasslands birds and overlays them to target acreage for acquisition that will benefit as many birds as possible. Looking ahead, the Service has identified almost 12 million acres of priority wetlands and grasslands, necessary to maintain current populations of ducks and geese, as well as grasslands songbirds and shorebirds that have suffered broad declines in population through loss of habitat.

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