MADISON, S.D. – The Student Conservation Association (SCA) today announced the South Dakota Prairie Pothole Fuels Reduction Team will conclude its work in the area this week. In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a team of four young adults (age 18+) spent 12 weeks improving waterfowl habitat and reducing the risk of wildfires in the region.

South Dakota’s Prairie Pothole region encompasses 313,000 square miles and is filled with wetlands, lakes and rolling hills. These freshwater marshes are found in the upper Midwestern prairies, especially the Dakotas and Minnesota. Depressions created by retreating glaciers about 10,000 years ago fill with water during spring, providing critical habitat for waterfowl and many other species.

SCA crew member using saw on tree.

Hailing from Maryland, Michigan, and Connecticut, the SCA team tackling this project comes from areas as far-flung as the migratory birds they protect. Team members arrived at the start of the season already having a wide range of impressive experience from past positions with the SCA. Using these skills, plus wilderness first aid and chainsaw training, the team quickly tackled the projects in front of them.

“Each day, the team comes prepared with a ready-to-go work ethic and shows a high level of interest in continuing to learn, whether it be chainsaw work or other professional skills,” said SCA Crew Leader Thomas Balthis. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been incredibly supportive of their interests and has allowed everyone to explore and develop their skill sets.”

In addition to their habitat restoration work, this team of four has expanded their professional job readiness skills by participating in water quality monitoring, vegetation surveys, welding, and heavy machinery maintenance alongside their mentors and partners at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The team will be in the field until Oct. 20, 2023.

Often called America’s “duck factory,” the Prairie Pothole Region is home to nearly half of the continent’s duck population for at least part of the year. Prairie potholes are essential water sources that help recharge underground aquifers. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Prairie Pothole Region accounts for just 10% of North America’s waterfowl breeding habitat but produces the majority of ducks in North America.

Using chainsaws and hand tools to remove invasive woody vegetation (red cedar, Siberian Elm, Russian Olive Trees and saplings) from Waterfowl Production Areas in South Dakota identified as high or very high fire risk for surrounding communities, the team is restoring native prairies while helping to expand the preferred habitat of waterfowl and reducing the risk of wildfire.