Ducks Unlimited Canada operates and maintains hundreds of kilometers of ditches and canals in southern Alberta that move surplus irrigation water into several wetland complexes throughout several. irrigation districts. Most of this infrastructure was built prior to the 90’s when DU was still attempting to “drought proof” the prairies. Research followed that proved that the cost of building operating and maintaining this infrastructure, did not make fiscal sense for conserving continental waterfowl populations. The organization seized building these type of projects some 3 decades ago, however are left with maintaining the existing works. The result of the spreading of water across the native prairie has benefited the ring-necked pheasant and sharptailed grouse with greatly enhanced cover, water and abundant riparian habitat. This year PF Calgary paid for the cleaning 6.65 km of one of the main conveyance canals known as the Verger Main Supply canal, which is located on the Rosemary Grazing Lease within the Eastern Irrigation District. The canal was completely grown over with cattail greatly restricting the flow resulting in delayed delivery of the precious resource to 11 separate wetlands
Conservation Specialist, pointing to the newly cleaned out Verger Ditch
Cleaning the main Verger Ditch
On top of maintaining the ditches and canals that feed the wetland complexes, other maintenance is required such as road and trail maintenance that allows access to the basins. Much of the Verger Complex is on the Rosemary Grazing Lease which is owned and managed by the EID, who allows access, which is restricted to travel on trails only. As well, the aging dams require maintenance. Pheasants Forever Calgary payed for a contractor to add 2 feet of fill for a dam that supports one such trail on the complex allowing the system to function for years to come and for all to enjoy.
These wetland complexes have greatly enhanced the bio-diversity and abundance of wildlife on the prairies and have not proven to be optimum waterfowl habitat as natural wetlands rely on a drought / flood cycle which these basins are no longer afforded.
Agriculture, wildlife and society has benefited from these water features on the landscape as has upland gamebirds. It is responsible management for users to help pay for the maintenance of this invaluable infrastructure in our back yard.
During a recent field inspection, we ran into 2 broods of ring necks and 2 broods of sharp tails. On top of that we seen a myriad of bird species including several species at risk such as chestnut collared longspurs, Vesper’s sparrows and loggerhead shrike.
New crest and road armour on one of the many Verger dams
Located on the northern border of the Eastern Irrigation District, Finnegan Field possesses good habitat for upland birds due to abundance and diversity of shrubs and plants thanks to open ditches and flooded wetlands. Pheasants Forever Calgary paid for the cleaning of 2.75km of ditch that supplies water to 8 wetlands on native grass.
Aerial view of the Finnegan Field
A ground view of habitat surrounding wetlands on Finnegan Field