In New York, opposition brewing to proposed mallard harvest limit
Waverly, N.Y. — While waterfowl seasons are in place for this year, there’s already opposition brewing to a 2019-20 plan to trim the mallard limit in the Atlantic Flyway from its current four birds to two.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Atlantic Flyway Council confirmed the plan to trim the daily mallard harvest number to two birds, both of which can be hens.
That announcement led to an immediate response from Delta Waterfowl, which said the two-mallard proposal – designed to reduce mallard harvest rates amid a decline in breeding populations over the past 20 years – is flawed.
Instead, Delta Waterfowl is calling for a three-mallard limit daily, only one of which may be a hen.
“Reducing the limit to two mallards daily, but still allowing two hens in the bag, makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, president and chief scientist of Delta Waterfowl. “We think a three mallard/one hen limit is a vastly more logical solution.”
While the proposal by the USFWS and the Flyway Council is in response to population surveys and other data that indicate breeding mallards in the northeast United States have declined about 20 percent since 1998, those same figures show eastern Canada’s mallard numbers are steady or even increasing.
In recent years, the hunter harvest rate under a four mallard/two hen daily limit has exceeded what USFWS population models suggest is allowable to sustain the breeding population.
While the goal of the USFWS/Flyway Council plan is to reduce the eastern mallard harvest rate, Delta Waterfowl believes a limit of three mallards (one hen) daily would better meet the required reduction in harvest rate, particularly due to its emphasis on the vital hen population, which is typically the driver of overall mallard numbers.
“Clearly, our suggestion of one hen mallard per day would further decrease the hen harvest, which is truly what matters most,” Rohwer said. “A three-and-one limit would also help correct the drake-skewed eastern mallard sex ratio – which is believed detrimental to duck production and appears to be getting worse – without unnecessarily punishing hunters with a very restrictive overall bag limit.”
A May survey by The Duck Hunters Organization to hunters within the Atlantic Flyway showed 63.9 percent of the 1,220 survey respondents favored a limit of three mallards/one hen. Only 6.6 percent supported the USFWS/Flyway Council proposal of two mallards/two hens, while another 11.6 percent backed a four mallard/two hen limit for a 30-day season (with 60 days for all other ducks).
Somewhat surprisingly, 17.9 percent favored a two-mallard daily limit, only one of which could be a hen.
“It’s hard for me to understand what the feds are thinking with this one,” said Central New York waterfowl hunter Matt Snyder of Brewerton. “I’m all for conserving duck populations – the vast majority of hunters are. But it seems like the Service is getting more and more wrapped up in its own statistical models and less connected to hunters, and it’s getting harder to know what is really affecting duck counts and migration patterns.”
Delta offered its alternative mallard limit proposal to the USFWS and the Flyway Council, and suggested that harvest analysis be performed. Both have declined, the organization said.
“The current USFWS administration has demonstrated that it’s pro-hunting, notably by increasing hunter access on national wildlife refuges, and requiring a hunting element in this year’s Federal Duck Stamp contest – both fantastic moves,” Rohwer said. “The USFWS has the smartest migratory bird biologists in the country, and we believe they could’ve easily done a three-and-one limit analysis from the start or could evaluate it before a final decision is made. The reality is the analysis may say a three-and-one limit won’t work. If that’s the case, fine, but it has to be explored.”
If no action is taken, in October the USFWS two-mallard limit will become part of Atlantic Flyway regulatory frameworks for the 2019-2020 season.
Snyder said the situation is similar to one in which the USFWS reduced the daily limit on bluebills (greater scaup).
“For a decade that’s been all take and no give for hunters, with no sign that it made a difference to the ducks. If that happens with mallards it will hurt a whole lot more hunters, and I’m not sure anyone knows whether it will ever help the ducks,” he said.
Rohwer urged duck hunters in the Atlantic Flyway to contact their state wildlife biologists and the USFWS and question them on the proposal.
“It’s time for you to ask your biologists and administrators the same questions we’ve been asking for months: Why is a two-mallard limit the only proposal on the table, why not analyze a three-and-one mallard limit, and why isn’t everything possible being done to best serve duck hunters while also ensuring the health of eastern mallard populations?” he said.