Waterfowlers to again see a 60-day, 6-duck season

By Tim Eisele
Contributing Writer

Madison — The Natural Resources Board, NRB) approved a 2017 waterfowl season that again allows hunters a 60-day duck season and six-duck daily bag limit.

At the board’s April 12 meeting, it approved a Department of Natural Resources, DNR) recommendation including changes from last year’s season consolidating the Horicon Canada goose hunting season into one continuous 92-day period, and this year reducing the daily bag limit on pintails to one per day.

The daily bag limit of six ducks may include no more than: four mallards (only one hen); three wood ducks; one black duck; two redheads; two canvasbacks; three scaup; and one pintail.

The limit allows five mergansers daily, of which no more than two may be hooded mergansers.

Taylor Finger, DNR migratory bird specialist, said, “We’re now setting the season in April rather than in August, which allows us more time to inform hunters of the seasons,” Finger said.

The 2017 season is being established based on data from waterfowl populations, and wetland abundance, in 2016.

In 2016, the continental duck population was 48.4 million, which is close to a record high for the past 61 years. Wetland abundance is above average.

“If spring wetland conditions are any indication, it looks like we will have great nesting and brood rearing conditions this year,” Finger said.

Finger told the NRB that the proposed seasons and zones received between 71 percent and 95 percent public support at the various public meetings.

There was a 50/50 split in attitudes about the north duck zone, with half wanting an early season opening date with no temporary closure (split season), and the other half in favor of a later starting date or a mid-season split to extend the closing date.

The DNR felt that this interest in starting the northern season later was due to the extremely mild fall last year.

Populations of nesting Canada geese in Ontario were below average last year, while local Canada goose numbers are about average.

Recent efforts to increase the harvest of local giant Canada geese in Wisconsin appear to have worked, as local populations are under 150,000 birds, compared to the high in 2004 of almost 250,000.

Finger said Wisconsin waterfowl groups agreed with the DNR proposal, except for the Conservation Congress, which asked for the north duck zone to start a week later.

Looking at past hunter surveys, public sentiment has been to start the northern zone as early as possible, and that is what the DNR recommended to the NRB – to open the north early and run the season for a straight 60 days.

The northern duck zone season will open Saturday, Sept. 23, and will end Nov. 21.

The south zone will open Saturday, Sept. 30 and close temporarily on Oct. 8. It will re-open Oct. 14 and end Dec. 3.

Opening day shooting hours will begin one-half hour before sunrise for all regular waterfowl seasons.

Gary Zimmer, board member from Rhinelander, asked about the continuation of the early teal season.

Finger explained that the experimental hunt ran for three seasons, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USFWS) has given the state an extra year of the season in order to file complete data on the three-year season. Finger believes the USFWS will offer the season to the state on a regular basis this summer, but the state will have it for 2017.

If offered the season on a regular basis, the DNR will work with groups and then bring a recommendation to the NRB for 2018.

Fred Prehn, board member from Wausau, asked for information on monitoring hunters and the extent of mis-identification of birds during the teal season, and what other species were harvested by mistake.

Terry Hilgenberg, board chair from Shawano, said that he was concerned, in light of tight DNR budget, over the number of public sessions held around the state on waterfowl seasons with very sparse attendance.

“Are we getting enough public input to justify the expenditures and travel time?” he asked.

Don Kirby, executive director of the Wisconsin Waterfowl Association, affirmed the group’s support for the proposed 2017 season structure.

“All of us at the WWA look forward to participating this summer and beyond in an ad-hoc committee to determine the future of the early teal hunting in Wisconsin,” Kirby said.

Most hunters are either strongly opposed or strongly in favor of the early teal hunt, Kirby said. He believes that discussion will bring about compromise for the majority of stakeholders.

Greg Kazmierski, board member from Pewaukee, said that he received a letter that made a lot of sense to him – having a split in the northern duck season during the nine-day gun deer season. He asked Kirby for his opinion; Kirby said he could see both sides.

Kirby said an early teal season in the north may open an avenue for a split in the duck season during the gun deer season.

Other NRB actions

In other actions, the board accepted these donations:

• $41,622 from the Ruffed Grouse Society for eight habitat projects in Wisconsin;

• $68,800 from the Devil’s Lake Concession Corp. for part-time employees in visitor services at Devil’s Lake State Park.

• $28,000 from Friends of  Devil’s Lake for part-time employees in visitor services.

• A John Deer Gator XUV 825i valued at $17,070 from Friends of Whitefish Dunes State Park for work at the park.

• $39,959 from Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute Foundation in 2017 and $39,959 in 2018 for education and research on three kinds of permeable concrete pavers.

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