Field Update: Waterfowl Conservation in South Dakota


SCA interns Sophie Kline and Carol Gause write about their experiences serving at a haven for migratory birds with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this summer.

We are students from North Carolina and Florida spending our summer out in the prairies of South Dakota with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). While we have never lived so far from home, we’ve never felt more welcomed and needed. As interns of the Huron Wetland Management District (WMD), we focus on projects that will enhance their fee title lands. Most of these involve completing biological surveys that will increase knowledge of waterfowl nesting and maintaining suitable habitat by building gates that will decrease the amount of vehicle trespassing in Waterfowl Production Areas (WPAs).

A Haven for Migratory Birds

The Huron WMD (est. 1992) can be found in the prairie pothole region of South Dakota. Here, the USFWS manages 59 Waterfowl Production Areas in addition to many wetland and grassland easements. Together, the total amount of land overseen by the district is a massive 326,592 acres!

What is all this land needed for? These areas are placed under certain restrictions to ensure that the habitat is suitable for the migratory birds that depend upon it for nesting and survival. These areas are often hailed as safe havens for these birds — many of which are waterfowl. Thanks to the Duck Stamp Act of 1934, funding from these annually purchased hunting stamps allow the USFWS to buy land as well as collaborate with private landowners to create wildlife reserves.

What We Will Take With Us

Sophie: My focus of study is more in the political and policy realm, so I wanted to reach out of my comfort zone and get more experience in the field. I’ve learned a lot throughout the summer, especially about waterfowl conservation, land management and skills that I can carry back home. This internship has inspired me to link together my passion for policy and conservation and to explore career options that involve the two. I believe that paperwork and field work go hand in hand, and to done one, one needs to experience the other.

While working in the field, I’ve learned about waterfowl species, native prairies and grasslands, the contracts between the landowners and specifically the USFWS, but also how to change a tire, to build fences, how to operate different types of machinery, and to be a more independent and confident individual.

Carol: During my time with Huron WMD, I’ve gotten to experience so much that has changed how I view conservation, hard work, and adventure! Some may find it hard to believe that South Dakota is a place of opportunity, let alone a place where you could spend a summer working and having fun. However, you should believe me when I tell you that it’s been awesome.

As an intern, I’ve been able to complete 4-square-mile surveys where I sharpened my waterfowl identification skills, participate in the Breeding Shorebird Survey, witness a controlled burn on a WPA, restore prairie habitat by removing encroaching trees, build over a mile of fence to protect a refuge, become a certified pesticide applicator, receive official UTV and ATV training, install locking gates to prevent vehicle trespassing that would harm wildlife, and even fly in an airplane to document easement violations!

This opportunity has taught me so much about what the USFWS does and why their mission is so important. This is what has reaffirmed my career goals in conservation and natural resources. Once I graduate with my degree in environmental science, I will be continuing my education by pursuing a natural resource related master’s degree.

Looking to get a start in wildlife conservation? Search our open internship positions. For more wildlife, check out the field notes of SCA alum and USFWS biologist as he collected Yosemite toad eggs for captive rearing projects.