An inside look at a conservation organization

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 3/4/18

He is the type of speaker that can keep an audience spellbound for hours. Of course it helps if he is preaching to the choir, and in this instance, it was a room full of hunters, land managers and conservationists.

I attended a meeting here in …

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An inside look at a conservation organization

Janice Presley is Delta's director of development for the Atlantic Flyway. She is also a duck hunter.
Janice Presley is Delta's director of development for the Atlantic Flyway. She is also a duck hunter.
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He is the type of speaker that can keep an audience spellbound for hours. Of course it helps if he is preaching to the choir, and in this instance, it was a room full of hunters, land managers and conservationists.

I attended a meeting here in Sumter recently where Dr. Frank Rohwer gave an entertaining and insightful presentation. Dr. Rohwer is president and chief scientist at Delta Waterfowl Foundation. Delta was founded in Canada as a research organization with a legacy of science dating back to the 1930s. U.S. Headquarters are located in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Delta Waterfowl seeks science-based solutions to issues facing North American waterfowl. Hundreds of master's and doctoral students have been Delta researchers. Many students have gone on to become leaders in waterfowl management.

Dr. Rohwer gave an overview of some of Delta's most successful projects, some of the failures and an inside look at efforts that have made a difference in conservation. Two of Delta's most successful projects are Hen Houses and Predator Management.

Hen Houses are nesting cylinders placed over water in small wetlands. Hen House sites are focused on wetland areas with limited nesting cover. Predators such as foxes, raccoons and skunks can easily find duck nests in sparse ground cover. Delta studies have shown that nest success can improve dramatically on Hen House program sites.

Nest success is the most critical component of waterfowl production, and Delta's research has shown that Predator Management is a very cost-effective way to boost nest success. Delta began studying Predator Management in 1994, seeking ways to improve chronically low nest success in areas with lots of wetlands and ducks but lacking cover in upland areas for nesting hens. The program is now fully operational, and Delta is working to expand Predator Management to have an even greater impact.

Some program ideas such as establishing dense nesting cover, fencing out predators and placing nesting culverts didn't work so well and were soon abandoned.

Delta also promotes voluntary, incentive-based programs to conserve small wetlands and upland nesting cover on private land. Working with private landowners is the key to addressing habitat challenges on the breeding grounds. Dr. Rohwer is most proud of the work that Delta has done in protecting wetlands. He noted that there are many incentive and government-based wetland protection programs in the United States but not so much in Canada.

Modern technology is also helping Delta researchers with their work in the field. Drones are used to fly over large areas of marsh and prairie to help locate nesting waterfowl, especially divers that are nesting over water. An infrared camera on the drone can detect a heat signature, and a regular camera can reveal if it is a duck or some other wetland species, such as a muskrat.

Delta's Ring-necked Duck Research Project was of particular interest to the people gathered in the room. Ringnecks are the second most-harvested duck in South Carolina and the most commonly bagged diving duck in the United States. Delta researchers have implanted GPS transmitters in ring-necked ducks for year-round tracking to determine breeding areas, migration routes and seasonal movements. Dr. Rohwer stressed how they are consistently increasing in numbers and spreading westward when other diving duck species are not doing as well. Research might unlock mysteries that could benefit other diving ducks.

Dr. Rohwer introduced Janice Presley, Delta's director of development for the Atlantic Flyway. Janice is from Edgefield, South Carolina, and has been with Delta since last May. She had served as development director for the National Wild Turkey Federation for 12 years prior to joining Delta. She grew up hunting and fishing with her father and brothers. This past year she went on duck hunts in Mississippi and Arkansas.

Janice's primary concern at Delta is fundraising. Her duties are to cultivate and motivate individuals to support Delta Waterfowl Foundation. All the research, science-based programs and outreach at Delta are costly. Delta is a hundred-year-old nonprofit in the U.S. and Canada. Financial gifts are used to provide the greatest benefit to waterfowl and conservation. Delta doesn't seek to compete with other conservation organizations but instead to complement their efforts.

Sumter has an active chapter of Delta Waterfowl with a fundraising banquet held in the fall. There are several levels of membership available. I have been a member for more than 20 years. More information about Delta can be found online at www.deltawaterfowl.org.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.