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Minnesota breeding duck numbers decline, Canada goose numbers stable

July 13, 2009

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

Minnesota’s breeding duck population has dropped to an estimated 507,000 birds, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

This number is 31 percent lower than last year and 19 percent below the long-term average of 626,000.

The population estimate is based on the DNR’s May aerial waterfowl survey.

“Though population swings are normal, it’s always disappointing when numbers decline,” said Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife chief. “Our goal is to build a breeding population of 1 million birds.”

Steve Cordts, the DNR waterfowl specialist who conducted the survey, said the mallard breeding population was estimated at 236,000.

This is 6 percent above the long-term average of 224,000 breeding mallards, but 21 percent below last year and 19 percent below the recent 10-year average.

Blue-winged teal numbers declined 11 percent from last year to 135,000 and remained 39 percent below the long-term average.

“Blue-winged teal counts are always more variable than mallard counts since they are a later migrant through the state,” Cordts said. “Some years, we count migrant teal during the survey, but this year it appeared that most migrant blue-wings had already moved through the state by the time the survey began.”

The combined populations of other ducks, such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, canvasbacks and redheads, decreased to 170,000, which is 5 percent below the long-term average.

The estimated number of wetlands was 318,000, down 2 percent from last year but above the long-term average of 248,000.

“Wetland conditions were highly variable this year,” Cordts said. “The east-central and southern survey areas were extremely dry, but conditions improved dramatically moving north and west across the state.”

Additional wetlands and grasslands – including higher quality grasslands and wetlands – are key to improving breeding duck numbers.

The DNR’s Duck Recovery Plan identifies the need to restore 2 million acres of additional habitat to achieve the 1 million-bird breeding population level.

“We are committed to hitting the 1 million-bird target,” Simon said. “That means focusing on a long-term strategy to improve the quantity and quality of wetlands and grassland through the combined efforts of many partners.”

Simon said new constitutionally dedicated funding for habitat conservation would help this effort.

The Legislature recently appropriated about $13 million to various conservation organizations for habitat improvement on wildlife management areas (WMA), federal waterfowl production areas and other lands.

The Legislature also appropriated $8.5 million of dedicated funding to the DNR for WMA grassland and wetland acquisition and enhancement.

The DNR’s waterfowl survey has been conducted in early May each year since 1968, with only minor changes to the survey design.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys.

The survey is timed to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews that also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes, providing data that is used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

The survey was designed to provide an index of breeding duck abundance in about 40 percent of the state that includes much of Minnesota’s best remaining duck breeding habitat.

Data on breeding duck numbers across other regions of North America is not yet available, but preliminary reports suggest good to excellent wetland habitat conditions in the Dakotas and portions of southern Canada.

The entire report can be viewed at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

Waterfowl hunting regulations effective this fall will be released in August.

• Canada geese

This year’s estimate of 285,000 Canada geese remains similar to last year’s estimate of 289,000.

“Although the population is still above our goal, the number of breeding Canada geese has stabilized and is no longer increasing rapidly,” said DNR biologist Dave Rave. “Most wildlife managers have reported good numbers of goose broods so far this summer, which should translate into plenty of opportunity for hunters this fall.”

Since 2001, the DNR has conducted a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese during April.

The survey, which includes most of the state except for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, counts Canada geese on randomly selected plots located in prairie, transition and forested areas.

DNR, local Pheasants Forever chapters offer youth hunts
From the DNR

Minnesota youth can apply now to participate in mentored pheasant hunts this fall, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Pheasants Forever. Applications are due to the DNR by Friday, Aug. 21.

The hunts, which take place Saturday, Oct. 24, over much of the southern two-thirds of the state, provide an opportunity for youth and an accompanying adult to have a good first pheasant-hunting experience.

Last year, 200 youth participated in this first-ever DNR-Pheasants Forever partnership.

“We don’t guarantee that every youth will bag a pheasant, but we do ensure that youth receive hands-on skills, including safety, from experienced hunters who enjoy passing their knowledge onto the next generation,” said Mike Kurre, DNR mentoring coordinator.

Youth selected in the lottery are paired with guide-mentors from Pheasants Forever chapters.

To be eligible to participate, youth must be 12-17 years old as of Oct. 24 and possess a valid firearms safety certificate.

They also must have a parent, guardian, or adult authorized by a parent or guardian, accompany them as a non-firearm-carrying mentor to the prehunt orientation and the hunt.

“This opportunity is designed for youth who have an interest in pheasant hunting and would like to learn how to do it in a safe and controlled learning environment,” said Kurre. “We require a parent or guardian to accompany the child so they too can learn and, in the end, be a source of social support.”

Applicants must specify a first and second choice of county in which county they would like to hunt by referring to a map of the counties where Pheasants Forever has hunts established. The map will be included with the application.

Hunt lottery applications are available on the DNR Web site at www.mndnr.gov/youthhunts or by contacting the DNR Information Center at 1-888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Applications are due at 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21.

The lottery will be conducted Thursday, Sept. 3.

Successful applicants will be notified by Saturday, Sept. 26.

Unsuccessful applicants will not be notified.

The winner’s notice will contain specific information about hunting license requirements, equipment and contact information for the hunt coordinator.

Youth winners must contact their hunt coordinator after receiving their notice.

To create more hunting opportunities for more youth, Pheasants Forever is seeking permission to conduct the youth hunt on additional private land.

Those who have pheasant-friendly property or know someone who does are asked to contact Pheasants Forever’s Eran Sandquist at (763) 242-1273 or Scott Roemhildt at (507) 327-9785.

Court settlement puts wolves back under federal protection
From the DNR

Minnesotans no longer are allowed to take wolves to protect livestock and pets, now that a federal judge has accepted a settlement reversing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision to remove the gray wolf from the threatened species list.

The gray wolf, commonly referred to as the timber wolf, was removed from the federal government’s threatened and endangered species list on May 4.

At that time management of the wolf population passed to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The DNR managed wolves under a state wolf management plan, which went through a lengthy public input process to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Minnesota while resolving conflicts between wolves and humans.

“The settlement suspends implementation of the Minnesota wolf management plan by the DNR and puts management of gray wolves back under the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Dan Stark, DNR wolf specialist.

“Although taking wolves to protect livestock and pets was allowed under state management, only authorized government agents are now able to take wolves that kill or injure livestock and pets.”

USFWS officials agreed to the settlement, which stipulates that the public will have additional opportunity to comment on the rule removing wolves from the threatened species list.

Stark said any suspected livestock depredation or illegal killing of wolves should be referred to a local Minnesota conservation officer.

Conservation officers have the authority to verify livestock depredation claims.

They will refer control of wolves causing damage to the appropriate federal agency responsible for wolf depredation control in Minnesota.

A population survey during winter 2007-08 showed that an estimated 2,921 gray wolves live in Minnesota, which surpasses the federal delisting goal of 1251-1400 wolves.

Minnesota’s wolf population has remained stable during the past 10 years, giving the state one of the highest wolf densities anywhere.

DNR seeks comments on changes to aquatic plant management
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is asking for comments regarding rule changes for aquatic plant management permit fees and policy rules. Comments can be submitted before Friday, Aug. 14.

A state law passed in 2008 directed the DNR to establish aquatic plant management permit fees that recover the full cost of administering and enforcing the permit program.

That includes the costs of receiving, processing, analyzing, and issuing the permit.

It also includes the additional costs incurred after the application to inspect and monitor activities authorized by the permit, and enforce aquatic plant management rules and permit requirements.

The current fee structure recovers only about one third of the aquatic plant management permit program costs.

Since the initial request for comments was published, the DNR has decided to consider additional revisions to the aquatic plant management rules in Minnesota Rules, chapter 6280.

Some of the key areas that rule changes are being considered for include:

• Adding definitions to clarify terms used in the proposed rules.

• Clarifying when site inspections are required prior to permit issuance.

• Clarifying when signatures on applications for permits may remain valid for longer than a single season.

• Allowing aquatic plant control after Sept. 1 and clarify reporting requirements.

• Other changes that may arise during this rulemaking effort.

Background information on the DNR’s aquatic plant permit fee rules is available at mndnr.gov/input/rules/app/.

For more information, contact Steve Enger at (651) 259-5092.

Question of the Week
From the DNR

Q: Now that the spring burn restrictions have been lifted, are landowners able to freely burn their brush piles?

A: Landowners are free to burn their brush pile throughout the year when restrictions or burning bans are not in place.

However, before a debris pile can be burned landowners must obtain a free burning permit; permits are required when the ground is snow free.

These permits are available from State Fire Wardens, DNR Forestry offices, and in some areas of the state from municipalities or the county sheriff’s department.

In addition, individuals may obtain a permit online at www.mndnr.gov.

There is a fee for the one-year online permit.

Landowners are always encouraged to use alternatives to burning such as stacking brush in places where it can be left as shelter for wildlife.

Other alternatives include composting or chipping and using the chips for landscaping.