Dennis Anderson: DNR restrictions alone won't let ducks reco

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Dennis Anderson: DNR restrictions alone won't let ducks reco

Postby 4roger » Sat Aug 06, 2005 5:45 pm

Dennis Anderson: DNR restrictions alone won't let ducks recover
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
Minnesota duck hunters will get four birds in the bag this fall rather than six, as in recent years, and only one may be a hen mallard, down from two.

And hunters can't use spinning-wing decoys in state wildlife management areas.

Those restrictions represent, essentially, the sum total of what the Department of Natural Resources has announced in the past year to help ducks recover in Minnesota.

Otherwise for duck hunters this fall, it will be business as usual, generally, as determined Wednesday by the DNR:

 A 60-day duck season.

 Over-water goose hunting in September prior to the Oct. 1 duck opener.

 And, of course, a youth waterfowl day on Sept. 17 -- for ducks that have developed enough feathers to fly by that time.

When compared to the always-entertaining U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service duck managers -- recommending as they did another "liberal" 60-day, six-ducks-in-the-bag hunting season --Minnesota's waterfowl bosses appear conservative.

But rather than tinkering with a few hunting regulations, the effect of which likely won't be measurable, here's what the DNR should have announced this week to help Minnesota ducks.

That it will leverage the considerable goodwill generated among waterfowlers at the April 2 Capitol rally for Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water and begin to educate Minnesota waterfowlers about ways that conditions for resident and migratory ducks can be improved in the state.

This would include, but not be limited to, expanding refuges for ducks, north to south, while also restricting shooting hours.

Regarding refuges:

Yes, it's difficult to declare shooting-free zones in areas where historically hunting has been allowed. But careful planning could integrate new refuges into the state's wildlife management system by declaring such properties off-limits to shooting when they are acquired by the state, rather than afterward.

Regarding shooting hours:

Unfortunately, the state's 4 p.m. duck hunting closing -- once a hallmark of Minnesota waterfowling -- now is little more than a memento of times past.

The early closing was designed to minimize the effect of hunting on the state's resident ducks, particularly mallards. But politics intervened in the 1980s, reducing the number of shortened hunting days from about 18 to about eight.

Politics likely also will prevent a return to seasons when the 4 p.m. closing ran in October until MEA weekend.

But other restrictions on shooting hours could be enacted in an attempt to keep more ducks in the state longer, and to protect the state's breeding populations.

These would include days -- perhaps Monday and Tuesday -- when no duck hunting (and no over-water goose hunting) would be allowed.

Restrictions on other days that would end over-water shooting at 10 a.m. or perhaps noon also could be implemented -- if not throughout the entire season, then for part of it.

And if not throughout all of the state, then in part of it.

Other states (and provinces), including Texas, Illinois and Missouri, restrict duck shooting hours and/or restrict access to managed public hunting areas.

So should we.

The DNR also should have announced this week with its fall waterfowl regulations that from this day forward it promises to consider seriously the balancing of fisheries and duck management.

Otherwise, in our hopes to return Minnesota duck hunting to its once glorious past, we're kidding ourselves.

Fact: The DNR issues aerator permits willy-nilly, keeping alive fish and minnow populations in some shallow lakes that otherwise would freeze out -- which would nurture aquatic vegetation needed by ducks.

Fact: If the DNR truly wants more ducks, it needs to review in their entirety their own regulations regarding minnow-rearing in state waters.

First on any list of changes in this area should be required water-quality monitoring of wetlands and shallow lakes used for minnow rearing.

Baseline and deviation limits should be established, and annual monitoring required, with penalties proscribed, including minnow removal.

Up to hunters

A truism of game management is that fish and wildlife agencies often don't initiate change so much as they fine-tune and ultimately enact changes initiated by the public.

That's true also in Minnesota. And it is perhaps asking too much of the DNR to "save" ducks here on its own.

Hunters and hunting groups must instead do their part by developing proposals that will enhance conditions for Minnesota ducks, and then provide the necessary political support and cover for the DNR as it seeks to enact the changes.

So when you're in your blind this fall, hoping to see more ducks, remember that the DNR plays a role in any hope you might have of witnessing again great flights of birds.

But so do you.
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