Outdoors: Moist-soil management for wetland creation


The main factor in moist-soil management is the ability to control water levels.

Creating a wetland for waterfowl habitat doesn’t have to be complex. Simple ponds, flooded marshes and timber tracts can provide the necessary resources for waterfowl from season to season.

It’s important in establishing wetland habitat for ducks to be diverse. The life cycle, growth, nesting brooding and food availability are all critical for survival of waterfowl. Ducks engage in high-energy activities and quality food sources are important.

Landowners building a pond or lake for waterfowl may want to consider making it multipurpose. The water impoundment could be used for ducks and for fishing.  Selecting a location for the pond is the first step in planning for waterfowl habitat. This includes determining the size and shape of the pond. A water source like a creek or small stream would ensure a continuous supply of fresh water.

“Before starting construction on a duck pond, landowners should have the soil tested to verify the ability to hold water,” said Seth Maddox, Migratory Game Bird Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF).

Maddox mentions that the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries provides technical assistance to private landowners free of charge. They enjoy getting out and helping landowners create or improve waterfowl habitat on their property. Contact Maddox at seth.maddox@dcnr.alabama.gov.

When building the lake or pond the bank or shoreline should not have a steep drop off. A shallow or gradual slope will help waterfowl transgress the water when feeding. The topsoil should be saved. After excavating return the topsoil.

“In lakes that will be used for both fishing and for waterfowl habitat, a gradient is better,” Maddox said. “The pond should be deep on one end and shallow on the other.”

Most ducks are dabblers and prefer shallow water to feed. Teal only need a few inches, just enough to set down on the water. For other ducks six to 18 inches of water depth is plenty.

Another method of creating waterfowl habitat is moist-soil management. This system began back in the 1940s when it was introduced in the Illinois River Valley.  The method is like natural wetland management, but on a smaller scale.

“The moist-soil management process is using water, natural seed banks and manipulated soils to promote germination of desired plants,” Maddox said. “It is both an art and a science.”

While many landowners provide conventionally grown agricultural crops for waterfowl, the moist-soil management goes a step further. The planted crops do meet some nutritional needs with carbohydrates, but there are other nutrient needs, Maddox said. Wintering waterfowl require natural vegetation and invertebrates (insects). The natural food sources provide amino acids for fat and calcium for egg production.

Creating a moist-soil management area is relatively simple. The most critical factor is water control. The area will need to be flooded in the late autumn to early winter months. Moist-soil management areas only require a few inches of water to be effective. Water depth of around five to 18 inches is enough. The key is being able to control the water depth.

In the spring the water level is drawn down and the trees are not harmed. For successful moist-soil management, water is left in the wetland until the danger of frost has past and growing season begins.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at charjohn@cableone.net