Each year, the Rainwater Basin Joint Venture (RWBJV) works with partners to coordinate wetland management that will result in high quality early successional habitat on public and private lands. Typical management projects include tree removal, herbicide application, disking, and prescribed burning. Often, one treatment is not enough to achieve desired habitat quality. Coordinating all of these different management techniques in succession, on a regular basis across the entire Basin, ensures that we are enhancing migratory waterfowl and water bird habitat in existing wetlands.
Tree removal is one of the biggest projects that the RWBJV coordinates annually. The succession and encroachment of woody plants and shrubs has been shown to be a direct threat to many wetland species. Cottonwoods, Mulberries, Elms, Cedars, and many other common tree species found in the Basin, combine with other woody species to provide cover for predators. These predators (hawks, raccoons, skunks, etc.) threaten nesting waterfowl, pheasants, quail, and non-game bird species that depend on wetlands and prairies to survive. A study in western South Dakota found that trees along pond edges decreased use of the pond by mallard broods. Other studies have found that nesting success for upland gamebirds and waterfowl is directly related to the distance the nests are from woody cover.
In summer 2020, RWBJV organized tree removal on 23 different properties comprising 1,656 acres. Bids were collected in June and ultimately two contractors were hired to complete the work. This cooperative effort includes wetlands on federally owned properties (Waterfowl Production Areas), state-owned properties (Wildlife Management Areas), federal easements (Wetland Reserve Program), and non-profit properties (Wetlands America Trust). Tree removal will be completed on public lands by September 4th, 2020 to avoid any conflict with early-season teal hunters. Work will be completed on private lands/federal easements by October 1st, 2020.
The type of tree removal varied by property. Trees were either cut, sprayed with herbicide, or removed by a skidsteer with a tree-puller attachment. Property managers were able to designate if there were particular herbicides they preferred. If trees were cut, the stumps were also treated with chemical to discourage re-sprouting. If trees were pulled, contractors were required to smooth over the holes. Cut/pulled trees were then piled tightly, in the upland, and at least 100 feet from other piles and infrastructure.
Many of these same properties will be included in the RWBJV Prescribed Fire Project that will take place in late 2020 into spring 2021. After the 1-2 punch of removing all of the trees this summer and then burning any seedlings that may come up in the spring, great progress will be made. Maintaining and enhancing wetlands is a never-ending job. But by strategically combining management techniques, intervals between treatments should increase and allow managers to focus more efforts/funding on wetland restoration.