Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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State’s duck harvest slides slightly in 2007

Washington – Preliminary numbers released in July by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service indicate the state’s duck harvest
decreased about 7.5 percent last year, or by a total of about
29,000 ducks. There also was a slight decline in the number of
geese harvested in Michigan in 2007, according to the USFWS.

However, the survey indicated that the number of “total active
duck hunters” increased from about 38,000 to 39,200 in the
state.

Overall, duck harvest in the Mississippi Flyway jumped up about
7 percent, to about 6.7 million ducks. Hunter numbers also
increased, from about 464,000 flyway-wide in 2006 to about 474,000
in 2007.

Mallards again were easily the most-often harvested duck in the
state, constituting about 47 percent of the harvest; green-winged
teal made up about 14 percent of the harvest.

The state of Louisiana led the way in the Mississippi Flyway;
hunters in that state – about 62,000 of them – took about 1.5
million ducks, nearly 25 apiece during the course of the season.
Arkansas followed with a harvest of about 1.1 million ducks, and
Minnesota was third in the flyway with a duck harvest of about
560,000.

The nation’s leader in duck harvest was California, where about
53,200 hunters took more than an estimated 1.6 million ducks,
better than 30 ducks per hunter during the past season.

In the Lower 48 states, the duck harvest was about 14.6 million
ducks, of which 33 percent were mallards. The overall harvest was
up about 5.5 percent. Another 68,000 ducks were harvested in
Alaska.

One species that has garnered the attention of waterfowl
biologists in recent years – bluebills – saw a decrease in harvest
from about 234,000 in 2006 to about 224,000 last year. A recently
adopted harvest strategy for bluebills (lesser scaup) by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service could mean greater restrictions on
harvest by Michigan hunters this fall.

Questions also remain about canvasbacks, whose numbers dipped 44
percent in spring breeding surveys, about 14 percent below the
long-term average. Hunters nationwide harvested about 125,000 last
year.

Michigan mallards

DNR officials last week said the breeding population of mallards
in the state was the lowest since the count began, taking a
35-percent hit, from about 293,000 last year, to about 189,000 this
year.

“(The count) was down substantially,” said Barb Avers, waterfowl
and wetlands specialist for the Michigan DNR.

Michigan duck counts – together with those in Minnesota and
Wisconsin – are taken into account, along with USFWS and Canadian
Wildlife Service counts, to play a role in the current duck-hunting
season framework.

Avers said there were a number of factors that may have
contributed to the poor showing of mallards in this year’s
survey.

“The timing of the survey was not the greatest,” she said,
adding that warm weather arrived quickly, and with it, leaf-up,
that hinders surveyors’ ability to see and count ducks.

Another factor working against ducks may be low Great Lakes
water levels; Avers said water levels and mallard numbers seem to
track together – lower water, lower duck numbers.

Overall duck numbers compiled by the USFWS and CWS showed a
9-percent decline (still, 11 percent above the long-term average),
and a 7-percent decrease in the number of mallards (3 percent above
the long-term average).

State and federal officials were meeting last week to determine
the season framework, and if states in the Mississippi Flyway would
enjoy their 12th straight 60-day (liberal) duck season.

Avers said no matter the season length, Michigan would again opt
for a bag limit that includes just one hen mallard (the feds have
allowed two in hunters’ bags) to address the low mallard breeding
numbers in the state. Two years ago, the breeding count was about
203,000, though during the late 1990s, the count was regularly in
the 500,000 range. The one-hen mallard bag has been in effect in
Michigan since 1997, Avers said.

Other ducks

There’s also a chance, when the Service Regulations Committee
sets a season framework early this month, that scaup (bluebill)
hunters could see a reduced bag. A newly adopted scaup management
strategy by the USFWS has been the subject of discussion in
Michigan, as well as other states. Under the new plan, there’s a
chance the flyway could see the scaup bag limit drop from two, to
one this year.

The federal plan has been met with opposition this year from
some state officials who point out scaup numbers increased this
year in the breeding survey, though remain far below long-term
averages. Both agree other issues, and not hunting, have led to the
scaup’s long-term population decline.

“We’ve had some discussions about it, and we’ve maintained that
we’re not supportive of a major decrease in bag limit,” Avers
said.

Areas around Lake St. Clair, Saginaw Bay, and shorelines of Lake
Michigan are popular for bluebill hunters in the state, she
said.

By comparison, canvasback hunting in the state is “pretty
minimal,” Avers said. Still, state hunters might see changes in the
“can” season this year – possibly even a season closure – given the
species’ 44-percent flop in breeding counts this spring.

Avers said the Service Regulations Committee would make its
framework offering to the state in early August.

After that, the DNR, as well as the state’s Citizens Waterfowl
Advisory Committee, would study the framework, try to reach
consensus, and make their proposals to the state Natural Resources
Commission, which would in turn set the duck season for
2008-09.

Avers said another 60-day season likely would mean the retention
of a two-day January duck hunt in the South Zone.

Geese

The NRC is yet to approve a DNR proposal to increase the early
season goose bag limit from three to five. That could be done in
August, Avers said. The season dates – Sept. 1-10 in the North Zone
and Sept. 1-15 in the middle and south zones – are likely to be the
same as last year.

The NRC meets Aug. 14 in Lansing.

During the regular season, goose hunters might see some changes,
Avers said. State officials would like to eliminate special zones
based on different breeding populations of Canada geese – local
resident geese, the Mississippi Valley Population, and the Southern
James Bay Population – and create “hunting zones aligned with duck
zones,” she said. Special goose management units on the western
side of the state would remain in place, but would be operated
without quotas.

The USFWS was considering that proposal last week.

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