Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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MWA to look at options for managing predators

Correspondent

Plymouth, Minn. In what Minnesota Waterfowl Association
officials hope is the first step to implementing an aggressive
predator management program to help bolster Minnesota’s
ground-nesting birds, the conservation group will host a two-day
predator management workshop in late February.

The event (the time and location remain undecided) will
highlight the latest predator management research and include
expert speakers on an array of topics.

“What we want to do is evaluate the impacts predators have on
Minnesota’s wildlife, especially ground-nesting birds, and discuss
some possible solutions that could curtail those problems,” said
Mike McGinty, MWA executive director. “It’s not just about
waterfowl, either. We’re also talking about pheasants, grouse and
song birds. We’re taking a holistic approach to the workshop.”

McGinty also said the Minnesota DNR and the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service will participate in and provide financial
assistance for the workshop.

The February forum, to which all major conservation groups will
be invited, will likely showcase two differing wildlife management
philosophies. “In general, there’s the crowd who says that more and
more habitat is the solution, and there’s the other group who says
that predator management should be an active part of managing
ground-nesting birds,” McGinty said.

“What we’re saying is that habitat preservation and enhancement
is the long-term solution, but that in the short-term managing
predators effectively is something we need to invest in as
well.”

Over the years, predator management one of wildlife management’s
most controversial topics has had its passionate defenders and its
passionate detractors. Critics say the practice which has a variety
of applications is too controversial, too expensive, and too
management intensive. Advocates, meanwhile, point to research that
shows that managing predators namely fox, raccoon, skunks, mink and
some ground-nesting squirrels can dramatically increase the nesting
success of waterfowl, pheasants, grouse and other ground-nesting
birds.

Perhaps no other group has illustrated that fact like the Delta
Waterfowl Foundation, North America’s oldest waterfowl research and
conservation organization. In short, Delta compared nest success on
areas where predators were controlled and where predators were left
unchecked.

The results, monitored over five years on 320,000 acres of
nesting cover, showed that hens in trapped areas saw a 43-percent
nest-success rate a three-fold increase from areas that were left
unchecked.

Delta’s research was roundly criticized by a number of groups,
most prominently by Ducks Unlimited. In an editorial in its
magazine, the conservation group denounced Delta’s research,
arguing that resources need to be spent on waterfowl habitat, not
predator management. McGinty said that Delta’s research, while
encouraging and important, may not be applicable to Minnesota.

“Delta’s research on waterfowl, particularly on predator removal
on large tracts of land in North Dakota, is something that we
probably won’t be able to do on the same scale, if at all, in
Minnesota,” McGinty said. “For one, Minnesota’s grassland habitat
is fragmented, unlike parts of North Dakota. Secondly, there are
social issues that come into play.”

What MWA advocates, McGinty said, is the “strategic use of
predator management” in areas both private and public that
traditionally have high densities of ground-nesting birds. “We know
we can have a dramatic impact on nest success in certain areas,” he
said. “We know, too, that before the spring nesting season we can
separate, not necessarily eliminate, predators from nesting
birds.”

Above all, McGinty said, he wants to “educate” state and federal
wildlife managers on current predator management research. “We’re
not saying the predator management is a panacea,” he said. “What
we’re saying is that it is one tool in the wildlife management tool
box, and that resources should be spent on it, whether they come
from a new source or existing wildlife habitat dollars.”

Tim Bremicker, Minnesota DNR wildlife director, said he applauds
MWA for exploring the issue. “It’s definitely important that we
open a dialogue on the issue,” he said. “But just because we (the
DNR) are a part of the workshop, doesn’t mean it is an endorsement
of all of the subject matter.”

Bremicker said the DNR has used predator management techniques
to help increase nesting success of waterfowl. “There are certain
instances where predator management can be beneficial,” he said.
“The use of fencing to exclude predators, or the use of islands for
nesting waterfowl, are a couple of techniques that we’ve used in
the past.”

Bremicker added that the agency’s efforts are more focused on
current Farm Bill issues such as the Conservation Reserve Program
(CRP) and other initiatives that provide vital habitat for
ground-nesting birds.

Steve Wilds, regional migratory bird chief for the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, said while predator management is a useful tool,
some constituents may feel differently. “It’s a complex issue
that’s been around for a long time,” he said. “The question of
predator removal in the scheme of predator management is very
controversial. Do we get rid of skunks, raccoons and fox in certain
areas so that we can benefit other wildlife?

“It’s also tremendously expensive and labor intensive,” he
added. “I think first we need to sit down and talk through the
issue.”

Said McGinty: “We’ve done almost nothing in this state in
respect to predator management. What we need to do is build a
coalition between hunters, birders and our state and federal
wildlife agencies on this subject, and find out what we can do to
accelerate the implementation of the management of ground-nesting
birds. It is controversial topic, and we are no doubt sticking our
necks out on this one. But the alternative is to do nothing, and
that’s unacceptable.”

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