In February of 2004 I received a call from Delta Waterfowl and was ask if I would be interested in working a trapping contract for them that spring and summer. The job would consist of trapping a 36 square mile block for 120 days to increase the duck hatch. Delta Waterfowl had the trapping program going in North Dakota for about 10 years and I had heard about the program, and sent them a resume and application the previous fall.
After speaking with them on the phone I drove to their office in Bismarck ND for an interview and signed a contract to start trapping on the east side of the state on the 15th of March. I would have plenty to do to be ready to get started in the next 2 to 3 weeks.
Due to the large amount of grain farming in the area, the amount of suitable duck grass land nesting habitat has greatly reduced. The great majority of the waterfowl nest in what is called the Prairie Pot hole Region, which takes in the area of eastern Montana, North Dakota, northern South Dakota, and western Minnesota in the United States. Through studies of waterfowl nesting, it was determined that in some areas the nesting success was lower then 10 percent. Through further investigation it was determined that a large part of the problem was caused by predators killing hens while sitting on the nests or eating the eggs. Due the duck nests being in smaller grass areas and more condensed the nests were easier for the predators to find and more were destroyed. The main predators for the nesting waterfowl in North Dakota are red fox, raccoon and skunks. There also are coyotes, badger, mink and franklin ground squirrel that cause damage to the nesting success.
On the 15th of March I was on my trap block driving around getting permission to try to remove all the nest robbing predators I could. In North Dakota you are required to obtain written permission to trap on private ground. About 28 of 36 square miles of the block were private land with the rest being a waterfowl refuge and wildlife management areas. I had special permits to shoot, trap and snare out of the normal season from the ND Game and Fish. As I got permission to trap on the majority of the block I started setting traps. The main trap used was the body grip trap in the sizes of 160 and 220. I also used cage traps, snares, and footholds. I had built 250 wood cubbies to use on the project and the main concentration was getting them out first. With the skunks and raccoon just coming out of hibernation they were hungry and would respond well to the baited cubbies. I had bought a Honda ATV and put a box to carry equipment on the back. It turned out to be a necessity due to all the wet lands and soft ground right after the spring thaw. After getting the majority of the cubbies set out I added body grip and snares on trails. Once they were out I added a few foot holds to fill in where needed. With everything out, I was running between 400 and 450 traps and snares. Once set out the body grips are much easier to maintain and keep in operation for months. They are a very efficient trap for skunk and raccoon. Since they were two of the three main concern predators and most common it was pretty basic on the choice of the type trap to use. The fox numbers in North Dakota had really dropped due to mange so they were not as big a concern due to their low numbers.
In about December the reports of the duck hatch rates were sent out. While I was trapping the block there were people monitoring the duck nest both on and off the trapped blocks. In 2004 Delta Waterfowl hired 8 trappers in North Dakota to work on the duck hatch study project. The hatch rates off the trapped blocks would run from the single digits to mid teens. On the trap blocks it was running from 35 to 62 % hatch rate success. Ducks need a hatch rate of over 10% to maintain a stable population. One thing that was never studied was the other number of other game and song birds as well as mammals that also benefited from the predator removal program. I worked for Delta Waterfowl for the following 3 springs on a different trapping block. In the spring of 2009 I was told the Delta Waterfowl was down sizing the project due to a lack of funding. Mine was one of the six trapping slots that were dropped. Delta Waterfowl has 2 trappers working in North Dakota this year. I hope that maybe someday they will be able to put more people on trapping to help increase the duck hatch and I will maybe have a chance to work for them again. While looking for a job, hopefully trapping, I heard of a possible opening in Alaska on the Aleutian Islands. I called and was accepted to fill the job. I will write more on Ak another time.
Mark J. Monti