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.

This weekend, there were an estimated 500,000 people on Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, chasing walleyes (or whatever bit). We hope everyone who headed out enjoyed a safe and relaxing time on the water.

And it’s worth noting there are few things better than a fresh meal of walleyes. (Hopefully a meal of walleyes made your mom or wife or girlfriend very happy on Mother’s Day.)

Now, onto some housekeeping items.

We’re holding another session of Waterfowl 365 next Tuesday, May 13 from 6 to 8 p.m.

The plan is to meet at 6 at the headquarters of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge to observe and discuss the spring migration. We’ve been getting reports that there’s an abundance of ducks, so it should be a good time.

If you want to carpool from the MWA office, there will be vehicles leaving at 5:30. This is a good idea, as some of the places at which we’ll stop have limited parking. Please contact Dale Eggert –dale.eggert@mnwaterfowl.com – if you’re planning to attend.

Rummage sale
Minnesota Waterfowl Association next week also is holding its fourth annual rummage sale. Dates are May 16-17; we’d like to have all donations by noon on Thursday, May 15.

We’re looking for donations of items that are in good, working condition. Last year, we had mostly men’s items, but we had a fair number of women stop by the sale, so keep that in mind.

We will post the sale hours on our website on May 14.

Woodie Camp
And finally, a reminder that the registration deadline for this year’s Woodie Camp is May 16.

photo

There’s not always water where you see it here. But it didn’t take the ducks long to find it.

If you like rain, then the forecast for the next week or so is right in your wheelhouse. If you’re like many of us, though, and would prefer dry weather and the opportunity to spend a little time outside, then at least it’s comforting to know this precipitation is good for ducks.
It’s been pretty cool to see all the ducks using these newly created, albeit temporary, wet areas.

We’ve been seeing a lot of mallard pairs around, and yesterday during a walk, we went by a freshly created pond and watched six wood ducks fly off of it. The new pond is out of the way and has a bunch of old, cavity filled trees around it, so the woodies are probably pretty happy right there.

It looks like most of the state hasn’t been spared this rain, so it will be interesting to see what DNR biologists find when they fly the annual breeding pair survey sometime in May.

We leave you with a couple of dates to remember:
• The fourth annual MWA rummage sale is set for May 16-17. Click here for more information.
• The application deadline for this year’s Woodie Camp is May 16. Click here for more information.

The birds are back

April 16, 2014

After the winter we’ve had, there’s nothing quite as refreshing as seeing a bunch of ducks doing their thing in open water. We’ve seen a whole bunch of drake and hen mallards, and pretty good numbers of wood ducks, too.

The geese honk as they fly over the house early in the morning and in the evening, and swans and shorebirds are frequent visitors to many open wetlands.

Yes, spring has arrived.

In coming weeks, state DNR and federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists will take to the air for the annual waterfowl counts and population estimates, and we’ll learn once again if continental duck populations remain high. That will give us our first indication as to the sorts of hunting regulations that await us this fall.

But for the time being, it seems appropriate to just stare out the window and take in the natural wonder of the new season. (Just as I typed that, a snow squall came by.)

In days gone by, this is the time of year we’d be providing weekly updates about the goings-on at the state Legislature. But lawmakers, for one, are on their Easter breaks this week, and, for two, it’s been a relatively quiet session on the conservation front.

While we can expect money for this project and that, this program and that, there’s little in the way of proposed laws that deal directly with waterfowl. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s a Game and Fish bill that is relatively non-controversial and likely will pass – though floor amendments dealing with wolves could derail it – and the bill that has the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council likely will pass with little controversy.

While we still remain vigilant about what lawmakers are up to, there’s nothing wrong this time of year with taking some time to enjoy the wonder of nature.

Show time
The Minnesota Waterfowl Association will be exhibiting at the Wing Shooting and Wildlife Art Show, which is set for April 25-27 at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

Show hours are 2 to 8 p.m. on Friday, April 25; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 26; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 27.
Stop by and see us. For more information, click here.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of winter? OK, just wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page. Luckily, even if we get the big pile we’re forecasted to get on Friday, it won’t stick around long.

Sadly, though, it’s hard to have a conversation these days without at least some reference to the weather. Yeah, we know we get winter in Minnesota. But how many of us signed up for this kind of winter?

Now I’m rambling, but I can’t help but wonder what those Canada geese I keep seeing are going to do when we get the big dump. Grin and bear it, I suppose. Like us, there’s not much else they can do.

But we know spring arrives every year, and it will arrive this year, too. After all, the Northwest Sportshow is the gateway to spring, and we’re just a few days removed from that show. And by the way, we’d like to thank everyone who came and visited the Minnesota Waterfowl Association booth. It was a busy, and fun, few days, and we always enjoy meeting new people and renewing old acquaintances.

Truth be told, there’s not a whole heck of a lot going on in the waterfowl world right now. Lawmakers in St. Paul are in the thick of things, but there’s little that directly affects the hunting aspect of waterfowl, and it’s too early to say exactly what sorts of conservation measures we’ll see by the time it’s all said and done.

When we know, you’ll know.

One thing that’s worth mentioning is it appears the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going to approve an early teal season for production states, including Minnesota.

But don’t hold your breath that Minnesota will be holding one. The Minnesota Waterfowl Association has come out in opposition to the season, and it doesn’t sound like our state DNR is going to push too hard for one, either. This story in Outdoor News will bring you up to speed on what’s going on, and also includes the Minnesota Waterfowl Association’s perspective.