Canvasback season in question this fall

Associate Editor

St. Paul It’s been eight years since Minnesota hunters were told
they could not shoot canvasbacks during the waterfowl season. This
year, it could happen again.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed closing the
season on canvasbacks during the regular season this fall,
according to Tim Bremicker, director of the DNR’s Division of

“But the Mississippi Flyway Council has recommended the season
remain open with a bag limit of one canvasback,” he said. The
Pacific Flyway Council has done the same.

In 1986, the canvasback season closed. That was a year after the
estimated spring breeding population plunged from a range of
513,000 to 734,000 during the previous five years, to less than
400,000. Only once during the eight years the season was closed did
the estimated breeding population exceed 500,000 1990.

In 1994, the season was reopened and the USFWS instituted a rule
wherein the predicted breeding estimate for the year following fall
harvest must exceed 500,000 to continue the canvasback hunt,
according to Jeff Lawrence, DNR waterfowl specialist in Bemidji.
While the 2001 spring breeding population for canvasbacks was about
580,000, the model used by the USFWS predicts a breeding population
in 2002 below the 500,000-bird level.

“The Mississippi Flyway believes this number is too
conservative,” Lawrence said. “There have been a number of comments
on (the method) and it was never really an approved strategy (by
flyway councils). It will be looked at again.”

Lawrence said canvasback counts have been good since 1994. In
fact, in 1996, they reached their highest total since surveying
began in 1955, when the estimated breeding population was nearly
850,000, making them more plentiful than redheads that year.

The effect of a no-canvasback duck bag would be noticed by
hunters in Minnesota, who have been allowed to possess one
canvasback in recent years.

“Minnesota is one of the top harvest states (for canvasbacks) in
the Mississippi Flyway,” Lawrence said. The Mississippi Flyway
typically is near the top in terms of canvasback harvest.

“It would be a difficult situation in which to put hunters,”
Lawrence said of a possible canvasback closure. “Once the
(canvasback) season closed, you’d have to be able to positively
identify each duck, and that can be difficult for beginning

In 1999, canvasbacks were the eighth-most harvested bird in
Minnesota hunters’ bags, even though the bag limit was just

Canvasbacks made up about 2.5 percent of the harvest bag for
ducks that year, equalling roughly 15,000 birds. Just ahead of
canvasbacks were lesser scaup at 2.8 percent of the bag in 99.

Members of the Mississippi Flyway Council proposed keeping the
canvasback season open at a meeting last week. The Service
Migratory Bird Regulations Committee will review flyway proposals
and make a final recommendation to the USFWS director. The public
also is asked to comment on the proposal at this time. Typically,
waterfowl seasons other than early goose seasons aren’t announced
until shortly before they begin. Lawrence said the canvasback issue
is currently “up in the air.”

LqP extension likely

Chances are good hunters in the Lac qui Parle and West-Central
Goose zones will see their Canada goose hunting season expand from
30 to 40 days this fall.

“It’s still in the works, but there are a couple more hurdles,”
said Dave Trauba, DNR manager of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife
Management Area.

In return for a longer season, the Minnesota DNR told the USFWS
it would reduce the harvest index in the goose management zones
from 16,000 to 12,000. Last season, hunters there took about 3,000
Canada geese.

“We looked at when birds were getting here and the harvest
numbers to come up with the proposal,” Trauba said.

During the past few seasons, the bulk of Canada geese have
arrived at Lac qui Parle late in the season or after it has closed.
The limited season is in place to protect the Eastern Prairie
Population of geese, which stop regularly at Lac qui Parle, but
whose population isn’t burgeoning like their resident Giant

Trauba said it was a good production year for EPP geese,
although there were fewer birds nesting than in the past. He
expects a flight similar to last year.

Bremicker said USFWS members appeared likely to approve the LqP
season extension, though the proposal is still subject to approval
from the USFWS director.

Regular waterfowl season

likely to start Sept. 29

Bremicker said the USFWS did not recommend extending the season
framework, which would’ve given Minnesota the option of opening the
regular duck season a week earlier.

Instead, Bremicker said, the season likely will begin Sept.

Minnesota wasn’t one of the flyway states which pushed for an
earlier season start date, but said it would consider the option if
it was offered. The duck package would again be a liberal one,
which equates to 60 days and six ducks in Minnesota.

Youth hunt slated

for one day

Although the USFWS offered states a two-day youth waterfowl
hunt, Minnesota will likely again have a one-day youth hunt,
tentatively set for Sept. 15, Bremicker said.

Opposition to the youth hunt has arisen in the past, as some
believe the hunt drives early migrators prematurely from the

Motorized duck decoys OK

Motorized duck decoys will be allowed this duck season, though
their future likely will be up for discussion when flyway councils
meet after this season, Bremicker said.

The state of Missouri recently completed a study of the
mechanical decoys which indicated the decoys increased duck

Depending on the extent of that harvest increase, use of the
decoys could possibly result in smaller bag limits, or a shorter
season sometime in the future, Bremicker said.

Increased harvest is “just the first issue,” Bremicker said.
Fair chase and equal access to hunting areas are other

“In Minnesota, they’re not used a lot, but you see them more and
more,” he said.

Lawrence said two states California and Washington may be
considering outlawing the motion decoys for the upcoming duck

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