Generous limits urged for ducks
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
July 31, 2005 ONOT0731
Despite the dismal season duck hunters experienced last year in the Mississippi Flyway's top waterfowl states, another liberal season -- 60 days, with six ducks allowed daily -- has been recommended by flyway wildlife managers and federal officials.
The recommendation was based on the number of mallards counted in spring breeding surveys and the number of ponds on northern duck breeding grounds in May.
Whether Minnesota, which sought a more moderate hunting season in recent flyway meetings, will give its hunters the 60-day season with six-bird limits might be decided this week.
That's when top officials of the Department of Natural Resources Fish and Wildlife Division meet with DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam to discuss season-setting options.
Agency wetland wildlife group leader Ray Norrgard said Friday that concern for the resource might lead Minnesota officials to tighten daily bag limits.
Duck harvest in the Mississippi Flyway dropped by about 1 million birds last year from 2003. Bad as Minnesota's season was, with a 23 percent harvest decline, dropoffs in Missouri (30 percent), Illinois (32 percent) and Louisiana (39 percent) were greater.
At flyway meetings held recently in Mississippi, Minnesota attempted to secure a "moderate" season with reduced bag limits and a shorter season. But the idea died in committee for lack of a second.
The mood among Minnesota hunters, who have not seen many ducks in recent seasons, might be for more restrictive regulations. But Norrgard said minor tinkering with the season length and bag limit won't significantly alter the harvest -- only more dramatic changes will do that.
The big question about the fall flight seems to be whether relatively late moisture to the breeding grounds -- rain that fell beginning the first week of May -- will account for good duck production this summer.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in recent years has suspended its midsummer duck production survey due to a lack of funds. So production and fall flight estimates -- always somewhat sketchy -- are unavailable.
Meanwhile, it appears hunters throughout the flyway might only be allowed two bluebills (scaup) this fall, because of its declining population.
Dennis Anderson is at email@example.com.