My Opinion on Predator Control: Trap, Baby, Trap!

What's the major determining factor as to whether waterfowl populations go boom or bust? It isn't food resources on the wintering grounds, it isn't disease and it certainly isn't hunting mortality. By a wide margin, it is actually nest successthe more eggs that hatch, the more ducks we can expect in a given population. Other important factors include the survival of ducklings and nesting hens.

This pie chart courtesy of Delta Waterfowl illustrates the factors that influence annual variation in mid-continent (MS and Central Flyway) mallards: 

Note that breeding-ground factors combined (nest success, duckling survival and breeding hen survival) account for an incredible 76-percent of the variation. All are affected by a common variable: predators.

Raccoons and skunks routinely dine on eggs, while other predators, such as red foxes, feast on both eggs and vulnerable nesting hens. Ducklings have to watch out for mink and other hungry mammals. To make matters worse, habitat loss and the spread of predators outside their historic ranges have waterfowl at arguably greater risk than ever before. Breeding mallard hens have not traditionally had to deal with coyotes and red foxes, and raccoons have only been found in Canada since the 1950's (perhaps not so coincidentally, that's also the decade in which populations of mid-continental white-winged scotersnow practically non-existentbegan to dry up).

Therefore my philosophy is "Trap, Baby, Trap!" and I am puzzled how anyone can argue that further investment in predator-control operations would have no effect on waterfowl populations. Research by Delta Waterfowl proves that trapping tends to increase nest success by 24 to 48 percent.

I am not suggesting we should ignore grassland/wetland habitat issues. CRP and WRP are at a potentially deadly funding crossroads, and waterfowl easements are worthy investments; however, let's not be naive about the current state of the Prairie Pothole Region. There are immense tracts of prairie occupied by agriculture, and there always will be. Farmers and nesting waterfowl both crave the richest soil available, and therefore they will compete for ground in perpetuity. Certainly we should secure habitat easements when possible, but the prairie is too large and the richest farmland too expensive for this to be our only means of restoring waterfowl populations. Fellow waterfowlers, we need a Plan B. We need to trap.

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3 Responses to My Opinion on Predator Control: Trap, Baby, Trap!

Kyle Wintersteen wrote:
July 27, 2011

Hi Jack. I agree, which is why I believe house cats should be kept in the house.

Jack Wolford wrote:
July 26, 2011

Regular house-cats will attack sitting hens or ducklings. Enough said !

Dwain Holmes wrote:
June 13, 2011

I have always beleived this and could never understand DU not being more into predator control as that is probably the most bang for the buck in todays waterfowl management given the price of land.You can have all the nesting habitat in the world and it will not do a lot for survival if it is overrun with predators.I grew up in Nebraska in the 40's and 50's.At that time pheasants and quail were an important game bird.Night road hunting for predators was legal.They outlawed this and predators increased dramaticly especialy racoons.Today a pheasant or quail are rare,few people hunt them along the Platte anymore,.We saw a steady decrease in game numbers.Some was due to habitat loss but the decline started long before the habitat was lost.