DNR debating 2005 6/60 duck offering

By Tim

Associate Editor

Bemidji, Minn. — Federal officials this week recommended a
liberal season – 60 days and six ducks in the Mississippi Flyway,
which includes Minnesota – for all U.S. flyways. But state
officials say this time around, they won’t be so quick to accept
the offer.

“There’s serious consideration in the agency (DNR) that maybe we
should be going with a more moderate-type season – either in bag
limit or season length,” said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist
for the DNR in Bemidji. A group that calls itself the Concerned
Duck Hunters Panel has recommended a more restrictive duck hunting

Either way, it’s likely the duck hunting season will open Oct.
1, 2005.

Duck harvest in the Mississippi Flyway dropped by about 1
million birds last year, from about 6.5 million in 2003 to about
5.5 million in 2004. The number of ducks counted during the USFWS’
spring breeding survey was similar to last year, with mallards –
the most common species – dropping about 9 percent from last year’s

Cordts said other flyway states expressed little interest in a
more restrictive duck harvest.

“While there is concern in Minnesota, there’s not as much in
other states,” he said.

Cordts said state officials, after reviewing public comments,
would determine the 2005 season.

Ray Norrgard, wetlands wildlife program leader for the DNR, said
the agency has a wealth of information from a variety of sources.
The DNR will glean information from past waterfowler surveys, as
well as from comments received during 18 public meetings this past
April. The DNR has an internal waterfowl committee that’s now
weighing opinions from throughout the state.

“One of the challenges, particularly with ‘seasons within a
season’ is how to do it in a state this long,” Norrgard said,
explaining that hunting attitudes are quite different in Thief
River Falls than they are in Wabasha. Cordts said the DNR continues
to discuss the possibility of duck hunting zones within the

Norrgard confirmed there was interest within the department to
consider a duck hunting framework more restrictive than that
offered by the USFWS.

Species of special interest

Even if the season remains 60 days, with a six-bird daily limit
(which has been the case for the past eight years), state duck
hunters more than likely will see some changes this year regarding
specific species like bluebills and canvasbacks.

Scaup, or bluebills, took another hit this year in spring
surveys. The species’ breeding population dropped another 11
percent, and is about 35 percent below the long-term average. That
prompted the USFWS to tell flyways the harvest needed to be reduced
another 25 percent; for the past six years the limit on scaup has
been three daily, six in possession.

“The big thing (at the flyway meeting) was scaup,” Cordts said.
“The Division of Migratory Bird Management (of the USFWS)
recommended all flyways reduce harvest by 25 percent, but it didn’t
lay out the specifics. Our best guess is a 30-day season with a
three-bird limit, or a season that’s 60 days with a one-bird

“The breeding population (of scaup) was at an all-time low this
year,” he said.

Cordts said he believes the USFWS will offer states one of the
options, not leaving it to states to decide.

State hunters likely will have more time to hunt pintails this
year. The federal recommendation is for a one-bird limit, but for
the entire 60-day season. While the bag limit has been restricted
for a number of years, the past three seasons have included 30-day
“seasons within the season” along with a one-bird daily pintail

However, pintail breeding numbers jumped 17 percent this year,
surpassing the magic 2.5 million-bird mark and allowing federal
officials to extend the season length. Cordts said the flyway
supported the recommendation.

Hunters probably will see another season within a season for
canvasbacks this year, as they have for the past two seasons (the
canvasback season was closed in 2002). The canvasback breeding
population fell 16 percent this year, but there are a number of
other parameters that determine the feds’ recommendation, Cordts

Update on AHM Task Force

A task force composed of government biologists and conservation
leaders that’s looking into Adaptive Harvest Management has made a
variety of recommendations to Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and
Pacific flyway councils, according to Cordts. One of them has been
that the flyways adopt two regulatory packages instead of the three
from which they now choose when setting the season.

“Our flyway has not supported that,” he said. “We have concerns;
we don’t know if hunters want that or not.”

Mississippi Flyway officials did support funding a duck hunter
survey to determine if hunters favor changes in AHM. Cordts said
under the task force proposal, the the most liberal of the
frameworks would likely be a 51-day season with a five-bird limit
in the Mississippi Flyway.

Other flyway councils must support the survey before it can go

Motorized decoys

While Mississippi Flyway states that support restrictions on
motorized (spinning-wing) decoys were unable to further their
cause, the flyway did pass a resolution that requests the USFWS
look into the biological, social and ethical implications of the
decoys, Cordts said, and “restrict their use nationwide if

“We pushed that and I’m glad we passed it,” he said.

Arkansas proposed a flyway-wide ban on the devices, something
that failed in committee for lack of support. That state banned use
of the decoys last year. Minnesota also has some restrictions in

“There was little support outside Arkansas, Minnesota, and maybe
Tennessee for an outright ban (on the motorized decoys),” Cordts

This year, there are a couple changes regarding use of motorized
decoys. They may not be used to take waterfowl from Oct. 1-8. (New
language includes all motorized decoys, including those that pump,
disturb, or splash water, according to Norrgard.)

After Oct. 8, the same restrictions on motorized decoys applies
to state wildlife management areas through the end of the duck

In another change, a daytime restriction has been imposed on
decoy placement. In those places where in the past hunters couldn’t
leave decoys overnight, they may now not leave them for more than
four consecutive hours during the day. The overnight restriction
remains in place.

Goose season

In general, state officials expect the goose season to be “back
to the way it was two years ago,” said Steve Maxson, goose
specialist for the DNR in Bemidji.

One notable change will be a five-goose limit during the
September Canada goose hunt in the Northwest Zone.

The West-Central, West, and Northwest zones will enjoy uniform
regular season lengths and limits (40 days, one goose daily) this
year. However, while the Northwest and West zones will open on the
duck opener, the West-Central Zone will open later, Maxson

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