Louisiana Delta: The Duck Pipeline

My brother once worked for a master plumber--and, yes, his official job title was a plumber's helper--and often he would come home from work with a bit of wisdom from Lenny, his boss.

One of Lenny's favorite sayings was that there are two ends to a pipe, and he would remind my brother of this frequently and at high volume. He knew that most people, my brother included, have a difficult time staying focused on more than one task at a time as they move through life, and especially with that half of the pipe that is behind us out of view.

One of the most important pipelines for sportsmen is the one that our waterfowl migrate through each winter and spring. The end of the pipe near where I live in Montana is the famous duck factory of the Plains that extends through the pothole region of the Dakotas up into Canada.

These fertile grounds are critical nesting habitat for ducks, geese, swans and countless other birds. The National Wildlife Federation says that the prairie pothole region accounts for 50 to 80 percent of the ducks in North America -- so the importance of that habitat cannot be overstated. Not surprisingly, there has been a concerted push by conservation groups for years to keep the duck factory healthy.

But there are two ends to a pipe, and at the other end of this pipe is the mouth of the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Delta in Louisiana is the winter destination for the upwards of 13 million waterfowl -- 28 percent of the entire waterfowl population in Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48.

So nearly one-third of all the waterfowl in North America end up concentrated in the marshes of Louisiana during the winter. These marshes provide critical food and shelter and are what sustain the breeding pairs of ducks that will return to the prairie the following spring to hatch the next generation of birds.

Unfortunately, these marshes are in deep trouble. They've suffered from a perfect storm of destructive forces. They are struggling due to the channelization of the Mississippi, which has left the Delta vulnerable to erosion, rising sea levels from global warming, and disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP Deep Horizon oil spill.

Help is on the way with efforts like the RESTORE Act, which will channel money into restoring the ability of the Mississippi to heal itself -- but even the most realistically optimistic projections indicate that it will be decades before the marshes start to regain ground.

One way to gain an appreciation for this end of the duck pipe is to visit it your self. I'm planning to spend a few days this coming winter hunting the bounty that the Mississippi River Delta holds and it would be great to see you down there too.