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By Tim Spielman
Associate Editor

State duck kill drops to third in the flyway

Fort Snelling, Minn. - Minnesota duck hunters harvested an estimated 844,000 birds in 2003, down about 11 percent from a 2002 harvest of 944,000.
That decrease, coupled with a near 64-percent increase in harvest in Louisiana (an estimated harvest of about 1.3 million ducks) and a slight decrease in harvest in Arkansas (about 1.1 million ducks) dropped Minnesota to third in total Mississippi Flyway harvest last fall, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Last year, Arkansas was the only flyway state to top Minnesota.
Steve Wilds, USFWS Region 3 Division of Migratory Birds chief, said while the harvest numbers are preliminary, "they're pretty close." This is the second year when federal officials count solely on Harvest Information Program surveys to estimate the harvest.
"HIP gives us a much better sampling scheme and a much better sampling base," Wilds said.
Mallards were the top bird in the Minnesota duck hunter's bag last year (304,000 harvested), followed by wood ducks (130,000), green-winged teal (101,000) and blue-winged teal (92,000).
Across the entire Mississippi Flyway, preliminary estimates show a 13-percent increase in total duck harvest, with 6.8 million birds taken, up from about 6 million in 2002.
Hunters in Minnesota again had an impressive goose kill; the 286,800 harvested in the state made up nearly 20 percent of the entire flyway goose harvest. Louisiana goose hunters killed about 172,000 geese, while those in Arkansas harvested about 163,000. Michigan hunters nearly doubled their 2002 goose harvest by taking about 192,000 in 2003.
"The thing that really jumps out at me is the Canada goose harvest and how important it's become in some states," Wilds said. "There are many states that didn't really have much of a goose harvest before, but are harvesting a lot of them now."
The Mississippi Flyway's goose harvest increased 24 percent to a total of more than 1.5 million geese.
"The duck harvest in Minnesota, coupled with the goose harvest, shows it was a pretty good year for Minnesota hunters," Wilds said.
Breeding population,
pond counts down
The 2003 harvest information is just one item used in formulating 2004 hunting season frameworks. Also in the equation are spring breeding population surveys and pond counts, neither of which were particularly impressive this year.
According to the USFWS, the total duck population estimate was 11 percent below last year (32.2 million vs. 36.2 million) in the traditional survey area. The count was 3 percent below the long-term average. That survey area includes much of Canada, Alaska, Montana, and the Dakotas.
Abundance of mallards, the most populous duck in the survey, dipped from 7.9 million in 2003 to 7.4 million in '04, a 6-percent drop.
Other species' spring breeding count tallies were as follows:
• Blue-winged teal - 4.1 million, down 26 percent (10 percent below the long-term average);
• Northern shoveler - 2.8 million, down 22 percent (32 percent above long-term average);
• Wigeon - 2.0 million, down 22 percent (25 percent below long-term average);
• Gadwall - 2.6 million, up 3 percent (56 percent above long-term average);
• Green-winged teal - 2.5 million, down 8 percent (33 percent above long-term average);
• Pintail - 2.2 million, down 15 percent (48 percent below long-term average);
• Scaup - 3.8 million, up 2 percent (27 percent below long-term average);
• Canvasback - 617,000, up 11 percent (near long-term average).
Larger than breeding counts was the fact that pond counts were down across the survey area, Wilds said. There was a 24-percent decline in the number of ponds counted in the May survey from 2003.
Whether the decrease in duck numbers and pond counts will result in a shorter season or bag limits is unknown, Wilds said. He said officials are now putting the numbers into models the agency uses to come up with a hunting framework. It's possible that shortened seasons (within the season) could occur again for species like pintails and canvasbacks, Wilds added.
The past several seasons have seen liberal frameworks, which in Minnesota meant 60-day seasons.

Flyway meeting in Duluth
Attendees of the Mississippi Flyway meeting in Duluth next week will get the first glimpse at proposed frameworks for the 2004-05 waterfowl season.
The flyway council will meet July 23-25. The agenda includes committee reports, reports from flyway council representatives, and '04 reg recommendations.
For more information, call the Minnesota DNR's Steve Cordts at (218) 755-3910.
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