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For Immediate Release...

Editors: For more information, contact Delta Waterfowl Scientific Director Dr. Frank Rohwer at 701-471-6185, or see

USFWS Regulations Committee Approves Scaup Harvest Strategy

Bag Limit Could be Reduced to One Bird for Upcoming Season

Bismarck, N.D--American waterfowl hunters are one step closer to facing a reduced scaup bag limit for the upcoming hunting season.

That's because the Service Regulations Committee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) approved a harvest strategy last week that paves the way for the bag limit reduction. The move was opposed by Delta Waterfowl, the state wildlife agencies in Louisiana, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota, as well as the Mississippi and Central Flyway Councils and the California Waterfowl Association.

"The decision is very disheartening, but not all hope is lost," said Delta President Rob Olson, noting that the scaup bag limit for Mississippi and Central Flyway hunters could be reduced from two birds to one. "A final decision to reduce the scaup bag limit won't be decided until later this summer, but this move does send a clear message to scaup hunters that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is intent on reducing the bag limit, despite strong opposition from Delta and others. We believe the harvest model used by the Service may be inadequate and should be fully reexamined before any reduction in the scaup bag limit occurs."

Olson says a one-bird scaup bag limit also puts hunters at a disadvantage, because under some conditions it's difficult to identify scaup from other diving duck species. "If, for example, a hunter shoots a drake bluebill, he or she may be forced to forgo the rest of their day in the marsh, rather than risk taking another scaup and being in violation of any new regulations," said Olson. "Scaup are a coveted waterfowl species for many hunters. We don't want to see regulated to the status of a 'mistake' bird."

Last June, after the USFWS proposed its scaup harvest strategy, Delta Waterfowl sent a letter to Division of Migratory Bird Management Chief Dr. Robert Blohm, urging the USFWS not to pursue its proposed strategy because the evidence did not immediately warrant the bag limit reduction.

In February, Delta Waterfowl convened a scientific panel of scaup population experts in Minnesota to evaluate the USFWS scaup harvest model. The expert panel raised several significant questions concerning the model and recommended that it should not be adopted as harvest strategy. The panel concluded that more work is needed on model development before a new scaup harvest strategy is adopted. The panel also recommended that any new scaup population models developed by the USFWS be reviewed by an independent committee of scaup experts.

But on page 34694 of the Federal Register, the USFWS, commenting on its proposed scaup harvest strategy on June 18th, made the following entry, "We note that no substantive criticisms suggesting that the proposed approach is not valid have been offered."

"Delta whole-heartedly disagrees with the Service's comment that no substantive criticisms have been offered," said Olson, adding that the Service has yet to sufficiently address the concerns and recommendations raised by Delta and other organizations. "We convened an expert scaup panel -- some of the most highly respected biologists in waterfowl management -- to evaluate the Service's scaup harvest model and its conclusions were both substantive and offered to the Service."

The spring breeding population of scaup (which includes both greater and lesser scaup, also called bluebills) has declined since the early 1970s. The population reached a record high of almost 8 million birds in 1972 and stood at roughly 7 million in 1984. In 2006, the scaup population reached an all-time low of 3.2 million birds. Last year, the population increased modestly (3.4 million) but was still well below the long-term average.

But Delta Scientific Director Dr. Frank Rohwer says that scaup remain one of the most abundant duck species in North America and that the birds' annual harvest is only a fraction of that sustained by other abundant species. Rohwer also notes that biologists who attended two major scaup scientific workshops in recent years agreed that the cause of the population decline was likely caused by habitat changes, not hunting.

"It's highly unlikely that hunter harvest has been a major factor in the scaup decline," said Rohwer. "Delta has a long history of taking a conservative stance when it comes to waterfowl harvest, but in this instance there is no meaningful evidence to suggest harvest is a limiting factor. If that were the case, we wouldn't be raising questions about the Service's scaup harvest strategy."

To fully understand why scaup are declining, Rohwer says the USFWS needs to commit more money and manpower to study the problem. "We need to figure out why scaup are doing so poorly in some parts of the Boreal forest," he said. "The Service needs to step up and initiate a comprehensive banding program to figure out survival and harvest rates, but most importantly we need to develop alternative population models, reevaluate all existing scaup data, and reach a consensus on a harvest strategy before we place such severe harvest restrictions on diver hunters. Remember, scaup counts are still well above 3 million birds, so there's no need for panic."

Delta Senior Vice President John Devney cut his teeth hunting scaup on some of Minnesota's most storied big-water diver lakes. He says if the scaup bag limit is reduced, the fallout could be disastrous.

"I'm fearful we're going to lose one of our greatest constituencies for scaup and scaup habitat -- diver hunters," he said. "Scaup hunters are a unique breed. Most covet the rich culture and timeless traditions of diver hunting. And they'll hunt the big water in some of the foulest weather imaginable. But if we prematurely reduce the bag limit, I'm extremely worried we'll see a lot of 18-foot duck boats and black and white decoys for sale."

Devney also noted that the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation showed that waterfowl hunter numbers had dropped 27 percent since 2001. "We don't want to exacerbate that trend," he said. "That would be a tragic mistake."

Added Devney: "Delta Waterfowl is committed to working with the USFWS to refine its scaup population model. We're also funding a Ph.D student to look at scaup population models."

According to a USFWS press release dated June 27th, a recommendation for this fall's hunting season length and daily bag limit will be made after the next Service Regulations Committee meeting in late July.

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If you do not like the idea of further restrictions, you may want to vote on the Mn Outdoors news poll:

The dumb ass clueless wannabbe MN duck hunters are thus far in FAVOUR of further restrictions :no: :huh:

More restrictions likely for bluebill hunting '08
By Joe Albert, Associate Editor, Mn outdoor news
Thursday, July 3, 2008 9:43 AM CDT ... news02.txt

Bemidji, Minn. - Absent an unexpected rise in the estimated scaup breeding population, bluebill hunters this fall will see more restrictive regulations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Service Regulations Committee last week adopted a new scaup harvest strategy that federal officials say will ensure harvest levels are such that the declining scaup population can sustain them.

"Hunters are among the nation's foremost conservationists - they give back far more than they take," USFWS Director H. Dale Hall said in a news release. "As sustainable hunting is the cornerstone of wildlife management, we must prepare to take action to conserve declining scaup populations to ensure we can provide hunting opportunities in future seasons. We are proud to have a strategy to ensure harvest regulations are in concert with the status of scaup populations."

Scaup populations in 2007 were the third-lowest on record, and recent population estimates have been more than 30 percent below the 55-year average. The largest decline has been during the past 25 years, according to the USFWS.

While the SRC decision doesn't immediately change the scaup regulations - those are set later this summer - it does change the model by which allowable harvest is figured.

"The bottom line for hunters is they'll get one-scaup bag limits from here on out unless things dramatically change," said Dr. Frank Rohwer, scientific director for Delta Waterfowl, who was at last week's meetings. "Don't be a bit surprised to see a one-bird limit. It almost undoubtedly will happen."

Delta opposed the adoption of the harvest strategy, as did some of the flyways, including the Central and Mississippi. Minnesota is a part of that flyway, but as a state also opposed the strategy, as did Louisiana and North and South Dakota. In a release, Delta called upon the USFWS to re-examine the harvest model, saying it may be inadequate. At last week's meeting, the SRC said the harvest model will be subject to further revision.

The harvest strategy will be used to determine bag limits and season lengths for scaup in relation to the current population estimate, according to the USFWS. The 2008 estimate is expected to be released in the near future.

"If you're a scaup hunter, you better hope we counted a lot of them," said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist.

For the past three years, the scaup population estimates have been between 3 million and 3.5 million birds. Minnesota hunters have been able to take two scaup a day for the full 60-day season.

"Had we been using the new strategy the last three years, we would have been in a restrictive season," Cordts said.

Hunters should have an idea about this fall's regulations when the USFWS releases its scaup population estimate this month.

"If it's less than 3.5 million or so, then we're looking at restrictions. If it's above that we would have an option of continuing with a full season and two scaup a day," Cordts said.

In restrictive season scenarios, the bag limit could be reduced to one scaup a day, there could be a 45-day season with a two-bird bag, or other regulations below the current (in the Mississippi Flyway) 60 days and two birds a day. The Mississippi Flyway hasn't discussed yet what it might recommend after its meetings next month, Cordts said.

While hunting hasn't been fingered as the cause of the scaup population decline, the USFWS says it wants to ensure harvest is "commensurate" with the ability of scaup to sustain harvest, given the population is in decline. Some theories hold that habitat changes are driving the population decline, but there has been no research to show conclusively that one thing or another has caused the decline.

"The harvest rates are so low on scaup, in my view, that you're just going to watch the population decline whether you hunt them or not," Rohwer said.

Cordts has another concern, too - that females drive the population, but scaup harvest is largely skewed toward males. About two-thirds of the scaup shot in any season are males, he said.

"You can reduce overall harvest, but it's unlikely to have a big impact just from basic population dynamics," he said. "That's somewhat troubling."

There could be a sex-specific hunt, like what is allowed for mallards, "but how effective or not effective that is, is debatable," Cordts said.

The hunt

Opponents of the new harvest strategy maintain that it could hurt hunting, especially in places like Minnesota, where ring-necked ducks, which are difficult to tell apart from scaup when they're in flight, are an important part of what hunters shoot each season.

A one-scaup limit would put hunters at a disadvantage, said Delta President Rob Olson.

"If, for example, a hunter shoots a drake bluebill, he or she may be forced to forgo the rest of their day in the marsh, rather than risk taking another scaup and being in violation of any new regulations," he said. "Scaup are a coveted waterfowl species for many hunters. We don't want to see them relegated to the status of 'mistake' bird."

Depending on what happens with scaup populations, hunters may feel the effects of last week's SRC decision for years to come, not just this fall, Cordts said.

That's because if the scaup breeding population were to fall to 2.75 million birds, full season closures would follow.

"That's my biggest fear," he said. "That's full closure - no take at all."
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