Despite the threatening weather, this year’s Wallowa County Ducks Unlimited banquet served nearly 160 adults and children from Wallowa and Union County. They enjoyed a Chuck Wagon Sisters buffalo, chicken, and pulled pork dinner at Cloverleaf Hall Saturday evening—and supported wetland conservation at the same time. The 2019 banquet was “…way more than we’ve done in the last couple of years,” according to Wallowa County chapter treasurer John Duckworth.

“Lots of people here believe in wildlife conservation,” said Ken Knifong, who brought his family to the event. “This dinner is fun for families because our Ducks Unlimited chapter really involves the kids as well as parents.” Events for children, known as “Greenwings” in Ducks Unlimited parlance, included duck decoy painting, and the always-popular duck calling contest.

Raffles and a silent auction, with items donated by many local businesses, including Kevin’s Tire, Moonshine Glass Art, and Aspen Grove Gallery were another highlight of the evening. The live auction featured a barbeque grill donated by Ed Staub Propane, a Tipi Adventure at the Rim Rock Inn, and a landowner-preference (LOP) cow elk hunt donated by Hancock Forest Management, as well as artwork and several firearms. Funds raised help support Ducks Unlimited conservation projects in Oregon and around the Northwest.

Ducks Unlimited is a non-profit that conserves, restores, and manages wetlands and related waterfowl habitat and also supports waterfowl hunting. Established in 1937, the organization has 700,000 members, 40,000 volunteers and 250 staffers, including more than 150 biologists, hydrologists and engineers. Habitat conservation now tops 14 million acres and focuses on waterfowl flyways and breeding grounds important to maintaining and restoring populations of ducks, geese and other birds.

In Oregon, just-completed projects include Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene, where the ability to change water levels during the year will help control invasive plants, including purple loosestrife that degrade duck habitat, and increase natives that supply waterfowl food. Ladd Marsh just south of La Grande has also benefited from Ducks Unlimited support.

“Several people here want to do conservation projects on their land,” said Duckworth. “But so far none of them have been chosen. We hope that will change in the future.”

That’s unlikely in the near future, according to Ducks Unlimited Regional Biologist Chris Colson, who is based in Boise. “A decade ago we worked with a lot of landowners doing small projects,” he said. “But that was very expensive, and we also found that improving habitat on major flyways and feeding grounds is more beneficial for migrating waterfowl.” Colson noted that this strategy also allows more ducks to make it to higher elevation homes in northeast Oregon.

“Our biggest project now, called SONEC, is in southern Oregon and northeast California” he said. “It provides habitat and food for ducks migrating from their winter grounds in the Sacramento Delta. It’s an important stopover so that the birds can replenish their energy, and arrive at their breeding grounds in good condition.”

But as the climate warms and dries, migration patterns are likely to change, Colson noted. Ducks Unlimited may turn their attention to higher elevation habitat like Wallowa County where water is more plentiful, and flood-irrigated pastures and hay fields on river floodplains provide better habitat.

“Things are always changing,” Colson said. “We want to think ahead, and always be there for the ducks.”

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