Study says motorized decoys very effective

Isotope analysis

The study didn’t just begin this fall, according to Afton.

In July and August of 2002, Szymanski and his crew spent time
collecting isotope samples from ducklings in Minnesota and
surrounding states.

Afton said the body tissues of the ducklings reflect the
chemical nature of the soil on which the birds are reared. Young
ducks spend their time from hatching until migration in the area in
which they’re hatched. The adults, both hen and drake, may not.
That’s the importance of collecting duckling samples, he said.
Researchers now are comparing feather samples of ducks harvested
during the study to those isotope samples taken during the summer
in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

In a nutshell, this portion of the research will determine what
percentage of the birds taken in the study were “local” ducks, and
if those ducks are more vulnerable to motorized spinning-wing
decoys.

A report on that portion of the study should be ready by July of
this year, Afton said. A final report of the study isn’t expected
until next January.

Afton said isotope research is relatively new to waterfowl, but
has been used in other bird species in the past. Similar research
has been used in California and Canada in the past.

Minnesota survey

Lawrence said the DNR is about to send out surveys regarding the
past waterfowl season to about 3,500 to 4,000 state hunters.

The survey will be similar to the survey sent to hunters two
years ago that indicated about 10 percent of duck hunters in the
state were using motorized spinning-wing decoys. Lawrence expects
that’s changed in two years.

Use of the decoys is just part of the survey whose aim is to
monitor hunter opinion of duck hunting in the state. Like 2001, Dr.
David Fulton, of the University of Minnesota’s Cooperative
Fisheries and Wildlife Unit helped design the study and will lead
analysis of the results.

The survey will attempt to gauge opinion across a broad
cross-section of the state, Lawrence added. He said survey results
should be ready by the DNR’s June waterfowl meeting.

States’ reactions to

spinning-wing decoys

Minnesota was just one of a handful of states that took
restrictive action on motorized spinning-wing decoys this past
season.

Two states Washington state and Pennsylvania had outright bans
on the mechanisms this past season. Afton said in Washington, it
boiled down to a “fair chase” issue for officials there.
Pennsylvania already had a ban on the books regarding motorized, or
electronic, decoys. Although it was originally written in regard to
big game hunting, it was applied to duck hunting.

The state of California banned the use of the motorized
spinning-wing decoys for about the first half of the duck hunting
season. That ban was based on a study there. Afton said Oregon will
ban the use of the decoys next year.

In Minnesota, hunters were not allowed to use the decoys on
public waters for the first eight days of the season in 2002.

More study

Afton said a study by the Canadian Wildlife Service, done much
the same way as the Minnesota study, found mallards were more
vulnerable to the motorized spinning-wing decoys.

However, a greater part of the study in Canada was dedicated to
field hunting. Only in a few situations did field hunting apply in
Minnesota.

In the fields, mallards were estimated to be 11 times more
vulnerable than they were in marshes of Canada, Afton said.

“Bits and pieces (of data) are showing the same thing,” he said.
“Ducks in general, and mallards in particular, are more vulnerable
(to motorized spinning-wing decoys).”

Feds monitoring studies

While varying degrees of studies continue in several states, the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service watches the results, but has no
planned studies of its own.

“We’re very interested in what comes from the studies across the
country,” said Steve Wilds, regional chief of migratory birds for
the USFWS in Minneapolis. “The problem is determining the effect on
harvest rates; are (motorized spinning-wing decoys) changing the
proportion of the population taken, or aren’t they?”

There are other issues, some social, some economical, that enter
into the equation, Wilds said. For example, is the success users of
the decoy may enjoy taking away from non-users’ opportunity.

“Some think it’s just an improvement in technology, like better
clothing or better boats for duck hunting,” he said. “Others think
it’s nothing like that.”

If it appears to be an issue that’s adversely affecting the
resource, Wilds said adjustments could be made to season length or
bag limits. He said it likely will be up to flyway states to
provide support for any USFWS action.

“I don’t see the Service undertaking any major studies,” Wilds
said. One reason for that, he cited, is lack of available
funding.

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