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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Now where did all the ducks go?

For a couple of decades,  I have traveled between Aberdeen and Tacoma Park,  where I have a place I have use as work studio, on a daily basis.  I have previously written about the disappearance of animal life along the way.  A few years past, the drive would take me past some horse pastures,  some places where lambs would frisk in the spring,  and some huge herds of cattle.  But those places have all been converted to cropland.  The conversion of the prairie into factory farms has eliminated livestock on the land.  And people, too.  

The significance of that conversion has its effects on the human, domestic animal, and wildlife populations.  As I travel through the country,  there is little to observe but the limitless fields of corn and soybeans.  There is little else.  

Many years ago I was the farm editor for a Midwest newspaper.  Driving through the countryside was not a lonely experience then.  As one passed by farmsteads,  it was always easy to see which ones had children.  Kids were always outside.  Younger ones could be seen on swing sets,  bicycles, under basketball hoops on garages or barns, doing what kids do.  Often one could see them in the farmyard training and grooming their 4-H animals.  Older teen-agers tended to hang out around cars of friends who dropped by. And if one traveled the countryside on Sundays or holidays,  it was common to see large family or neighborhood gatherings under the trees around tables laden with food.  There was always the activity of a busy community.

When I travel the country side today,  I may see some farmyards with  swing sets, but never any children on them.  If I ever do encounter another human,  it is usually a lone person on a lawn tractor mowing the yard.  What is striking about the rural landscape today is the desolation.  

The potholes are gone.

In the past two years, another place of  life has been covered over by the factory farms.  The potholes which always contained waterfowl are gone.  I had gotten accustomed to seeing ducks feeding, the divers with their butts in the air.  Along the shores of the ponds there were usually white egrets and great blue herons standing in the water plants.  Often the pelicans would stop by to cruise the ponds for food.  There were a couple of ponds so teeming with ducks that my son referred to them as the duck party places.  Last year one of the fields across the road from Tacoma Park was leveled out with a bull dozer, removing the back water ponds.  The field is planted right up to the rivers's edge.  

There is  one pothole left along my drive to Tacoma,  but for some reason it is devoid of any waterfowl, where it always seemed to teem with life. I speculate that the concentrations of agricultural runoff have made the pothole incapable of sustaining wildlife.

 While Ducks Unlimited and the U.S Department of Agriculture announce programs to re-establish the wetlands and maintain habitat for water fowl,  the breeding grounds along my drive to Tacoma Park are mostly gone.  Desolation has taken over the land.  

No more egrets.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States