The Delta Waterfowl Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Bismarck, North Dakota, with staff across the United States and Canada. It is also known as “The Duck Hunters OrganizationTM.”
The stated mission of Delta Waterfowl is to produce ducks and secure the future of waterfowl hunting in North America. This mission is supported by four pillars: Duck Production, Habitat Conservation, Research and Education, and HunteR3.
Duck Production is the management of habitat and nesting conditions to maximize duck nest success and brood survival. Delta employs two primary tools in achieving this goal: Hen Houses and Predator Management.
Hen Houses are nesting structures, used nearly exclusively by mallards—the world’s most populous, prolific, adaptable and, arguably, popular duck—to elevate their nests out of reach most mammalian predators. A hen mallard utilizing a Delta Hen House has up to a 12 times greater chance of successfully hatching its eggs than a hen nesting in nearby upland grass cover.
Predator Management seeks to restore a closer-to-natural balance in the populations of egg, duckling, and nesting-hen predators, particularly those whose populations were introduced or increased by human-driven influences. Raccoons and skunks are two such predators with few natural predators of their own that have major negative influences on nest success and brood survival. Delta-style Predator Management is highly targeted, carefully documented, and conducted only on areas of the highest waterfowl nest densities.
Delta’s Duck Production efforts are focused in the prairie pothole region of the northern U.S. prairie states and the south-central Canadian provinces. This is because it is this region—also recognized as “North America’s Duck Factory”—that annually produces as many as 70 percent of the ducks that fly south each fall through the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific flyways as far south as ducks migrate.
Delta’s primary approach to habitat conservation is to work with landowners through a variety of programs that incentivize them to maintain breeding duck habitats on their properties while still maintaining their agricultural viability. Ninety percent of the waterfowl breeding habitat in the prairies is in private ownership. The land is not for sale, and even if it were, all the conservation organizations and governmental agencies in North America could not afford to acquire enough of it to impact duck populations at scale. Taking the land out of agricultural production is also not desirable due to its importance in feeding a world population now exceeding 8 billion people.
Delta successfully pioneers and campaigns for programs that use public money to incentivize landowners to preserve their wetlands and upland nesting habitat while allowing use of the land for agriculture purposes during periods of the year and under conditions in which waterfowl do not require them for successful breeding.
These methods and incentives for habitat conservation also allow for important uses of the land beyond their value to waterfowl and other native prairie wildlife. These include such benefits as flood control and carbon sequestration.
Research and Education
Delta Waterfowl is a “science-first” organization. All the other pillars—Duck Production, Habitat Conservation, and HunteR3—begin with research that delivers accurate recognition of problems and highly refined, proven solutions. Delta is the oldest waterfowl conservation organization in North America, with origins dating to 1911. Throughout that long history, waterfowl production and wetlands management research have been at the core of all of the organization’s efforts.
Hundreds of graduate students and thousands of assisting technicians have conducted research at Delta, resulting in the publication of more than 1,000 scientific papers and articles. Delta takes great pride in having helped many hundreds of the world’s most influential waterfowl managers launch their careers. Each year, Delta continues to conduct dozens of research studies throughout the prairie pothole region and beyond, impacting every flyway.
Hands-on conservation programs like Hen Houses and Predator Management were built and continue to succeed based on research, but so are Delta’s HunteR3 programs like the University Hunting Program and First Hunt. Analysis of collected data allows Delta to make the best decisions and take the most effective actions to produce more ducks as well as to maintain and grow waterfowl hunter numbers.
“HunteR3” is the name for Delta’s branded efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate waterfowl hunters. The data shows that waterfowl hunter numbers have declined precipitously in recent decades in the United States and, especially, in Canada.
Delta sees two primary reasons for this. First is the societal issue that fewer people are being introduced to waterfowl hunting by family and friends. This has a snowball effect. As fewer people experience hunting, fewer become hunters, and that means there are fewer hunters to introduce the next generation to hunting and so on and so on.
The second factor is the squeeze on quality hunting opportunities. Due to multiple factors, there are fewer places readily and affordably accessible to those who wish to waterfowl hunt. This negatively impacts retention of current waterfowl hunters and/or reactivation of past participants who have given up waterfowl hunting because they come to see it as just too “difficult, complex, inconvenient, or expensive” to hunt waterfowl.
Delta’s First Hunt, University Hunting Program, mentor recognition programs, First Duck, Defending the Hunt, and other efforts seek to reverse these significant trends that threaten to change or eliminate duck and goose hunting in North America as we’ve known it. (It’s already happening in places like Australia, Europe, and South America.)
While “too few hunters” may seem contrary to the experience of hunters who struggle to enjoy quality hunting experiences, especially on public lands, the greatest threat to ducks and duck hunters is the reduction of our influence. The voice of the waterfowl hunter is increasingly drowned out in the modern world. As waterfowl hunter numbers continue to trend downward (as seen in proven, accepted data) and populations of the United States and Canada increase, the percentage of people invested in duck hunting and, therefore waterfowl conservation, nosedives. It’s easy to understand the threat this poses to the relevance of financial support for ducks and duck hunting.
Delta understands that this slow-burn process is what most imperils waterfowl hunting in North America. That’s why Delta’s HunteR3 initiatives are designed and delivered to ensure a bright future for waterfowlers—and, in turn, waterfowl.—Bill Miller