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Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Anyone else feel like the summer just blew right by?

That’s not a complaint. Just a statement. After all, hunting is just around the corner (though some people already have hunted geese during the special August season).

The dove season kicks off Sept. 1, followed by the early Canada goose season on Sept. 6. Youth Waterfowl Day is set for Sept. 13, and the regular duck opener is Sept. 27.

But before we look ahead to those seasons, let’s look back to last year. The DNR recently released its annual small-game hunter survey report, which includes a variety of data about license sales and hunting success.

Hunters last year killed 782,810 ducks, which is down slightly from 2012, but the second-highest harvest since 2003. One piece of information that’s especially interesting is the estimated harvest per hunter, which was 10.2 ducks. That’s the highest number in more than a decade, and indicative of a pretty good hunting season.

There was good news, too, in the number of duck stamps the state sold. The 2013 total was 90,483, which marks the third consecutive year that number has increased. While it’s nowhere near the number we’ve sold in the past, it at least seems to be stabilizing.

Finally, there were 76,950 duck hunters in the state last year, according to the report. That’s the second-highest in the past five years. Like stamp sales, it’s well below what we’ve seen in the past – there were about 140,000 duck hunters each year in the 1970s – but it does seem to be stabilizing at right around 80,000 or so. Would we like to see that number grow? Of course. On the other hand, stable is better than declining.

Exciting August for MWA

August 20, 2014

It’s been an exciting August here at the Minnesota Waterfowl Association. Many of us are just back from another hugely successful Woodie Camp. It’s a lot of work to put on the annual week-long cDSCN0294_mediumamp, but the rewards far outweigh what we put into it.

It’s so exciting to be watching the next generation of waterfowlers and conservationists coming of age. You can see photos from throughout the week, and read daily accounts, here.

We’d also like to mention that Outdoor News recently awarded the Minnesota Waterfowl Association – and Woodie Camp, specifically – with its annual Outdoor Leaders award. It was quite an honor, and our president, Mark McNamara, accepted the award on the first Sunday of Game Fair. Outdoor News also gave a $500 check to Woodie Camp.

Following is the press release from Outdoor News announcing the award:

Outdoor News, Inc., Awards Minnesota Waterfowl Association the 2014 Outdoor Leaders Award
(Plymouth, Minn.) – Outdoor News, Inc., publisher of locally written fishing and hunting outdoor newspapers in seven Great Lake states, has named the Minnesota Waterfowl Association its recipient for the 2014 Outdoor Leaders Award. The award announcement occurred at Game Fair in Ramsey, Minn., on Saturday, August 9th. Game Fair is the largest annual gathering of sportsmen, outdoors organization, and hunting-related businesses in Minnesota.

In presenting the award to MWA President Mark McNamara, Outdoor News Associate Editor Joe Albert cited the organization’s 26-year legacy of encouraging youth ages 13-15 to participate in a week-long waterfowling experience called Woodie Camp. “Outdoor News recognizes the level of access and depth of experience that youth are exposed to through Woodie Camp,” Albert said. McNamara elaborated by telling the audience, “Woodie campers learn valuable lessons about conservation, wetland restoration, waterfowl protection, duck and goose calling, decoy care and placement, and ethical hunting skills.”

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association coordinates and sponsors the participating youth involved in the week-long summer camp. Brad Nylin, a Woodie Camp staff member and executive director of the MWA, related the mission behind this youth-orientated program when he said, “The name of the game is to introduce young people to waterfowling. When they leave camp each year, you see that we’ve created duck hunters.”

The success of Woodie Camp, and a second course for camp alumni called Advanced Woodie Camp (an application of skills learned in an actual hunting scenario) has served as a model for other states looking to bring waterfowling experiences to young people, according to Nylin. Organizations from Michigan to South Carolina have visited Woodie Camp to try and emulate the program in their own states.

In addition to a plaque, Woodie Camp received a $500 donation from Minnesota Outdoor News. Read complete coverage of the award and the MWA programs in the August 15, 2014, edition (pages 28 and 29) of Minnesota Outdoor News.

Outdoor News provides in-depth coverage of hunting and shooting sports, fishing, archery, conservation and outdoor activities including analysis of state and national outdoor agencies, local lake maps and fishing reports, expert tips and relevant gear profiles. Robert A. Drieslein is the president of the privately held company established in 1968. With regional editors, columnists and sales representatives in seven states, Outdoor News Inc. publishes newspapers in Minnesota 52 times a year and in Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York 26 times a year. Outdoor News Inc. newspapers are subscription based mail periodicals with a verified circulation of over a quarter million including newsstand copies. New York Outdoors News is available through digital subscription as well. For more information about Outdoor News, Inc, visit http://www.outdoornews.com or call (800) 535-5191.

As expected, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering a liberal duck season once again this fall. That means 60 days, with a six-duck bag limit.

We haven’t heard yet when Minnesota’s season will open (it likely will be Sept. 27) or details about how the bag limits will break down. Nor do we know how the agency will deal with the possibility of bonus teal in the bag during the early part of the season.

But those details should be available in the very near future, so we’ll keep you posted.

This week has been extremely busy, as we prepare for what promises to be another awesome week of Woodie Camp next week.

We’ll write more when we know more.

Bluewinged_teal__drake

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

We should know as soon as today – and for sure by tomorrow – what the frameworks will be for this fall’s duck season. One thing is for sure: The chances it’s anything other than another liberal, 60-day season are beyond remote.

Bottom line: We’ll have 60 days of duck hunting this year.

But one item of note is the possibility that bonus teal will be allowed for some part of the season – likely the first 16 days. It’s not a sure thing yet, but there’s probably a better than even chance that hunters during those first 16 days will be able to shoot their regular six-duck limit, and then have two additional teal on top of that, for a total of eight ducks.

Recall the DNR isn’t pursuing an early teal season this year. (MWA was opposed to an early season, too.) But that doesn’t mean the agency won’t go for the bonus teal during the early part of the season. Keep in mind that things still could change, but we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the DNR offer those bonus birds.

We’ll post another update when we know the details of the season framework, and what Minnesota plans to offer this fall.

Trouble in paradise

July 17, 2014

Image courtesy of National Park Service

Image courtesy of National Park Service

You know something’s amiss in our nation’s capitol when even widely supported legislation can’t muster passage. The most recent example? The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014.

As its name implies, this piece of legislation, which had a bunch of good stuff in it for sportsmen, had broad support – 46 senators across party lines. There had been little, if any, opposition. Yet it’s still likely a lost cause after a Senate vote last week stopped it in its tracks.

At the end of the day, the bill went down in flames because lawmakers from both parties wanted to use amendments to the bill as a way to force the opposition to take difficult votes. It’s really a frustrating thing to watch good legislation go down to partisan politics.

While lawmakers from both sides of the aisle proposed untenable amendments, one of the most egregious came from two Connecticut senators – Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both democrats.

According to a press release they issued: “At a time when avoidable gun violence has become an everyday occurrence, and Congress has failed to act to keep Americans safe, it is unconscionable to consider the sportsmen’s bill without also considering measures to reduce gun violence. For this reason, we’re offering the Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Protection Act as an amendment to the sportsmen’s bill. When domestic abusers are most dangerous – at the height of their rage – current law is weakest in protecting victims like Lori Jackson from gun violence. Closing this gaping loophole will save lives when temporary restraining orders leave domestic abuse victims most vulnerable to violent partners with guns. The Lori Jackson Domestic Violence Survivor Act would prevent the purchase and possession of a firearm by someone subject to a temporary restraining order, and expand federal law to protect individuals who have been victims of abuse by dating partners. The link between domestic violence and guns is a deadly one.”

Unconscionable to consider the sportsmen’s act without considering measures to address gun violence? How is a sportsmen’s bill the least bit linked to gun violence? The answer is, it’s not.

But that’s Washington for you, and it’s a shame. We can only hope the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014 is somehow resurrected from the ashes.

LCCs -- Prairie Wetland_Glacial Ridge, MN (USFWS)

Image courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

We’ve seen some of the highest waterfowl numbers ever reported in the past few continental breeding waterfowl surveys done by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

This year’s total breeding duck count – 49.2 million – is the highest ever and marks the first time the estimate has topped 49 million. But we’ve been in that ballpark for a few years now.

Some species are more than 100 percent above their long-term average. And mallards are more than 40 percent above their long-term average. Save for a few species, ducks seem to be doing historically well.

On the other hand, we hear often about the need to restore and protect habitat, and about how we’re losing all sorts of grassland and wetland habitat. So how does that square? How can the habitat issue be so critical when duck populations apparently are doing so well?

This blog is purposely short because we’re really interested in hearing your reaction to the two questions above.

Well, what can you say?

We really couldn’t have asked for better results from this year’s continental duck survey, which encompasses portions of Canada and the United States.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Total duck numbers (49.2 million) were the highest on record. Wetland conditions look good. Though year-to-year counts for a couple of species went down, it’s hard to find much to complain about in the report.

By way of history, this survey has been an annual affair since 1955. It’s run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service, and is a huge part of what the USFWS uses when it comes up with the regulatory framework for the duck season. At this point, it’s not going out on a limb to say we’ll have another liberal duck season this fall.

And before we get into a species-by-species breakdown, keep in mind the this year’s record counts follow recent years of extraordinarily high total duck numbers. Following are total duck counts for the past seven years:

2009: 42 million
2010: 40.9 million
2011: 45.6 million
2012: 48.6 million
2013: 45.6 million
2014: 49.2 million

Following are species-specific figures:
Mallards: 10.9 million. Similar to 2013 estimate, 42 percent above long-term average.
Gadwall: 3.8 million. Similar to 2013 estimate, 102 percent above long-term average.
American wigeon: 3.1 million, 18 percent above 2013 estimate, 20 percent above long-term average.
Green-winged teal: 3.4 million, similar to 2013 estimate, 69 percent above long-term average.
Blue-winged teal: 8.5 million, similar to 2013 estimate, 75 percent above long-term average.
Northern shovelers: 5.3 million, similar to 2013 estimate, 114 percent above long-term average.
Northern pintails: 3.2 million, similar to 2013 estimate, 20 percent below long-term average.
Redheads: 1.3 million, similar to 2013 estimate, 85 percent above long-term average.
Canvasbacks: 685,000, similar to 2013 estimate, 18 percent above long-term average.

4.6 million, similar to 2013 estimate and long-term average.
Total pond counts during the survey were 7.2 million, which is similar to past year but about 40 percent higher than the long-term average. The Prairie Pothole Region is very wet, and it’s worth remembering that things today are likely at least as wet as they were during the survey. That’s good news for breeding efforts.

Find a copy of the “Trends in Duck Breeding Populations 1955-2014” here.

Mallard_drake

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

We expect the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota DNR, and the North Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department to release the results of their breeding waterfowl surveys soon.

The one people watch most closely is the Fish and Wildlife Service survey, as it looks at continental numbers of breeding waterfowl, and the conditions of the habitat in the areas in which the survey is flown.

Duck numbers have been near record-highs in recent years, so we’ll wait and see what this year brings. While the state surveys don’t garner as much attention, they’re still important, as – like the continental survey – they’re integral in the seasons we’ll see this coming fall.

It will be especially to see how wet things are across the prairie and in Canada. While we’ve been inundated with rain of late, it remains to be seen how things turned out during May, when the surveys were flown.
We’ll keep you posted how things turn out, so check back.

Tournament time
We’re still looking for golfers for our annual Minnesota Waterfowl Association golf tournament, which is set for July 14 at the New Prague Golf Club. The event is a scramble, and kicks off with a shotgun (how fitting is that?) start at 1 p.m.

The cost is $100 per person, or $380 for a foursome. That cost includes a round of golf, cart, and dinner.

There also are $100, $500 and $1,000 hole sponsorships available. We’re also looking for additional door prizes and silent auction items, so if you have anything to donate, contact Dale Eggert at (952) 767-0320, or dale.eggert@mnwaterfowl.com

MWA Logo copyWe’re called the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, and have been since our inception decades ago. As the name implies, we care a lot about waterfowl.

But, like the headline of this post implies, that’s just a piece of what we are. Indeed, you can’t really talk about waterfowl without talking about habitat, and you can’t really talk about habitat without talking about the broader topic of conservation.

So while we concern ourselves with waterfowl, their habitats – grasslands and wetlands, for example – are part and parcel to everything we do. Sure, the restoration projects we do benefit ducks, but they’re important for a wide variety of other species, too – flying and four-legged alike.

And when you restore a wetland and provide a grass buffer around it, not only do you create good nesting habitat for ducks, but you also provide the conditions that create clean water. Whether you’re a duck hunter or not, clean water benefits every single one of us.
This post is the first of several in which we’ll explain a little bit more about the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and the role it plays in Minnesota’s conservation scene.

We hope everyone is enjoying this lead-up to summer, and that you’ve been able to avoid some of the nasty weather that’s hit the state.

safe_imageIf you haven’t yet, please click on over to the live feed of the MWA wood duck house. The link is here.

There’s a live video feed into the house, and it’s pretty neat to see what’s going on in there. The link has been one of our most popular items on Facebook, and has been getting a fair amount of traffic.

We think that’s good news. You don’t have to be a duck hunter or even a wildlife enthusiast to get something out of watching live video of wildlife. Sure, maybe it’s a little voyeuristic, it’s also something that can get people who wouldn’t typically think about conservation thinking in that regard.

It’s not a leap to think someone could see and appreciate a wood duck in a wood duck house, and then start noticing when they see a wood duck in the wild. Maybe they get interested in wood ducks, and start asking questions, and then all of the sudden they’re interested in doing things to help wildlife. Maybe they take up hunting. Maybe they don’t.

Either way, it’s never a bad thing when we can maximize the number of people interested in conservation and the outdoors. So if you know of anyone who might be interested in checking out the live wood duck video, please share the link with them. You never know where that simple little gesture could lead.

State Legislature
Lawmakers have wrapped up their work for the year, ending what was a fairly quiet session in terms of outdoors and conservation. One of the highlights was the $109 million Outdoor Heritage Fund bill, which is the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The bill was far less contentious this year than it was last year, and it’s chock full of good stuff for conservation and natural resources.

Lawmakers also passed a game and fish bill, but it’s rather technical in nature and there’s little – if anything – that applies directly to waterfowl.

One thing to keep an eye on this summer has to do with wetlands. If you follow the news, you know there’s a lot of interest in mining in northeastern Minnesota, which has a lot of wetlands. There is some interest in mitigating those wetlands that will be impacted by mining elsewhere in the state – like the Red River Valley. Lawmakers didn’t address the issue this year, but you can bet it will be a hot topic next session, which kicks off in early January.

We hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend. If you’re traveling, please be safe.