Where are the ducks?

Waterfowl and its future was on everyone's mind during a three-day symposium hosted by the Minnesota Waterfowl Association at Maplelag Resort April 7-9.

Waterfowl and its future was on everyone's mind during a three-day symposium hosted by the Minnesota Waterfowl Association at Maplelag Resort April 7-9.

A wealth of experts representing private, state and federal interests spoke to the large attending crowd.

Dr. Robert Blohm, who works in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's division of migratory bird management, reviewed undertakings by FWS, including waterfowl surveys and environmental impact statements.

FWS is holding 12 scoping meetings across the nation on a draft supplemental EIS for updating its migratory bird hunting regulations. The last time this SEIS was updated was 1988, according to Blohm.

One of the public scoping meeting sites is at the Best Western Doublewood Inn at Fargo, N.D., on April 19 at 7 p.m.


The draft is addressing a variety of factors that have changed in 18 years relative to such issues as harvest management, subsistence hunting, various alternatives to nontoxic shot and spinning wheel decoys.

"I would encourage you, if you have an opportunity, to please go. It's not meant to be a question and answer period. Simply an opportunity to scope out what this document is going to look like," stated Blohm.

FWS hopes to have a draft outline by this summer and then write the draft SEIS, followed by further public comment. Blohm estimates it will take two years to complete this project.

Another EIS near finalization addresses the resident Canada goose population, which Blohm conceded is an issue "that has gotten away from us."

There is an estimated 4 million resident Canada geese on the North American continent, of which 1.5 million geese are in the Mississippi Flyway and another 1 million birds in the Atlantic Flyway.

"The document that was prepared really lays out an integrated approach to resolving this problem with a combination of a series of depredation orders, an enhanced flexibility with sport hunting seasons and also a proposal to do some managed take of these birds with some additional flexibility outside the normal times that we hunt these birds," explained Blohm.

The final EIS on this issue has been signed by the FWS director, but a final rule is necessary before it takes effect, according to Blohm.

Blohm said FWS is concerned about declining scaup numbers, and there are plans to replace nine aged aircraft used for waterfowl surveys.


Blohm said a national hunter survey was recently completed. FWS sent 30,000 questionnaires to waterfowl hunters, and received about 10,000 responses. He said a lot of good information was learned in what he termed a first step in a series of steps regarding the future of hunting and recruiting new hunters.

The survey results are posted at the Web site www.ducksurvey . com.

"Over the last 20-30 years, we as biologists haven't done a good job of keeping track of what the attitudes and attributes of the hunting public really are. This is designed to do that," said Blohm.

He noted that FWS is working with the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a surveillance strategy to detect the H5N1 virus that causes avian flu.

He said there is no evidence the virus is in North America yet. FWS has asked the Mississippi and Central Atlantic flyways to develop similar plans.

Steve Cordts of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources addressed the department's duck breeding population surveys, referencing data collected since 1968.

Cordts said the breeding mallard population has been increasing in Minnesota since 1968, and is now over 600,000 birds. The bluewing teal breeding population is estimated at 229,000 birds.

Cordts said those two species represent about one-third of Minnesota's total duck population.


"It provides a useful index of breeding duck abundance for the survey portion of Minnesota," said Cordts.

The DNR conducted duck hunter opinion surveys following the 2002, 2002 and 2005 seasons. Results from the last survey will be available this summer. The DNR also did a survey on hunter recruitment and retention in conjunction with the 2005 survey.

He acknowledged that a majority of Upper Mississippi hunters are dissatisfied with the number of ducks available during the fall hunting season, but are satisfied with the bag limits and season length.

Cordts said the DNR may announce in July whether there will be duck hunting zones and split hunting seasons.

In recent years, Minnesota hunters have complained about and questioned the availability of fall ducks, pointing to a shift in duck numbers to North Dakota and South Dakota. Cordts said Minnesota's wetland numbers were good in the 1990s, but the Dakotas have an advantage as their wetlands are more seasonal, while Minnesota's wetlands are either too deep or are affected by agricultural tile draining practices.

"When it gets real wet we don't have the capacity to support the number of temporary and seasonal basins that they do out in the Dakotas, the pasture/grassland-type of basins," said Cordts.

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