US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



This review was published by The Wildlife Society, in cooperation with USDA's National Resources Conservation Service and the Farm Service Agency.


Th e Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America has historically been considered the most important area of the continent for many species of waterfowl, particularly upland nesting ducks (Bellrose 1976). However, during the time since settlement of this area by Europeans, productivity by species such as mallard, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern shoveler, and northern pintail has apparently declined. Beauchamp and others (1996) reported a system-wide decline in nest success of upland nesting duck species in the PPR between 1935 and 1992. Nest success has been identified as the single most important factor influencing population change of mallards breeding in the PPR (Hoekman and others 2002) and predation has been identified as the primary reason for nest failure of upland nesting duck species in the PPR of the U.S. (Klett and others 1988, Reynolds and others 2001). Declines in nest success in the PPR have coincided with the conversion of large areas of perennial grasslands to cropland that has presumably altered predator/ prey relationships in ways unfavorable to upland nesting birds (Cowardin and others 1983). In 1985, Congress authorized the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as part of the Food Security Act (Public Law 99-198). Under this Act, landowners enroll cropland to be converted to perennial cover for a specified period (e.g., 10–15 years) in exchange for annual payments. Th e CRP has been part of all subsequent Farm Bills since the 1985 Act and resulted in approximately 4.7 million acres of cropland converted to undisturbed grass cover in the PPR of the Dakotas and northeast Montana during the period 1992–present. Conservationists have heralded the CRP as the most significant conservation program benefiting wildlife populations ever implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During the period 1992–1997, Reynolds and others (2001) conducted a study to assess the impact of CRP on duck productivity in the PPR of North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Montana. Th is paper presents results from that study and other data to demonstrate the benefits of CRP to waterfowl beyond 1997.