The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this week released its report on migratory bird hunting activity during the 2014 hunting season. (It also includes data from 2013.)

These reports are based on responses to Harvest Information Program responses, and give an initial indication of the waterfowl kill the previous fall. The state also reports on the number of waterfowl killed, usually in the early part of August.

Image courtesy of USFWS

Image courtesy of USFWS

According to the report, hunters in Minnesota killed a total of 571,300 ducks in Minnesota during the 2014 duck season. That’s down from 607,800 in 2013 and well down from the early 2000s, when hunters were shooting more than 800,000 ducks every year.

While the number of ducks killed certainly is interesting, what’s even more notable about these annual reports is the information they contain about the number of active waterfowl hunters. Last year in Minnesota, there were 70,500, a number that looks good when compared with the 2013 total of 58,600. But when you put the number in perspective, things change. The past two years – 2013 and 2014 – have seen the lowest number of active waterfowl hunters in more than a decade. In fact, up until about 2005, there were more than 100,000 active waterfowl hunters each year.

While hopefully we’ve been able to reverse the trend of declining waterfowl hunter numbers, it’s going to be difficult to increase them. After all, even though the USFWS tells us there are more breeding ducks now than there ever have been – and numbers have been exceptionally high for years – we’re still not doing great when it comes to hunter numbers.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association held its third annual charity golf tournament on Monday the New Prague Golf Club. It was a hot and muggy day, but another great event!

The Hautman brothers won the golf tournament with a score of 58.

The Hautman brothers won the golf tournament with a score of 58.

We had 15 teams participate in the tournament, which was a scramble-style format. The Hautman brothers – Jim, Joe and Robert – won the tournament with a score of 58. The 15 teams that participated this year was the most we’ve had in the tournament.

It was a fun event that drew people of all ages. Included among the tournament field was two kids who will be attended Woodie Camp next month.

In addition to the golf, there was a marshmallow drive competition, chipping contest, beer raffle, wine raffle, and gun raffle.

Below is a DNR press release on the discovery of a second bird infected with avian influenza.

A second confirmed case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been reported in a wild bird. A chickadee recovered in Ramsey County and delivered on June 10 to a wildlife rehabilitation center later tested positive for avian influenza.

The DNR will continue testing birds for avian influenza. Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR

The DNR will continue testing birds for avian influenza. Image courtesy of Minnesota DNR

 

“Since spring, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been conducting wild bird surveillance and we continue to investigate how the virus is impacting birds,” said DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr. “We are seeking more information about the chickadee, and are continuing plans to conduct expanded surveillance over the summer and fall by testing ducks and geese, and will be sampling hunter-harvested waterfowl throughout the state this fall.”

In April, a Cooper’s hawk from Yellow Medicine County was the first Minnesota wild bird to test positive for the HPAI virus. While waterfowl are known to carry and potentially spread the virus, they don’t get sick or die. However, raptors and songbirds are thought to die from it once infected.

Since December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported other individual wild-bird species in other states have tested positive for the virus. Among them are a Cooper’s hawk, several Canada geese, a peregrine falcon, two red-tailed hawks, a snowy owl, and a bald eagle.

Since the discovery of HPAI in domestic poultry, DNR staff have collected almost 4,000 avian influenza samples, including just over 600 geese sampled as part of DNR’s statewide banding program.  Until today, the Cooper’s hawk was the only positive sample identified.

“The report of a chickadee testing positive for avian influenza is the first detection of the disease in a songbird,” said Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager. “This is further evidence that while waterfowl species can serve as a reservoir for avian influenza, other species are susceptible to the disease.”

Cornicelli added that the chickadee was not turned into the DNR, so the agency does not have complete information about the circumstances surrounding the submission. “It is common for small birds to be sent directly to rehab facilities. We will not be able to determine where or how the bird was infected, but these results highlight the complexity of how this virus is spread, and that it can impact both wild and domestic birds,” Cornicelli said. “Although highly pathogenic H5 was diagnosed, the laboratory was unable to determine the exact virus strain, so we don’t know if was H5N2 or some other highly pathogenic strain.”

The Legislature recently appropriated $350,000 to the DNR for avian influenza testing DNR plans to collaborate with the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and the University of Minnesota on research projects that identify both active virus and virus exposure using serology. For more information on avian influenza and the DNR’s surveillance effort, visit the DNR avian flu Web page.

Following is a brief description of the continental waterfowl counts the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released last week. Watch the blog for additional information.

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Image courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The Trends in Duck Breeding Populations report summarizes information about the status of duck populations and wetland habitats during spring 2015, focusing on areas encompassed by the Service and Canadian Wildlife Services’ Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. The total duck population estimate was 49.5 million in the traditional survey area, an estimate similar to the 2014 and is 43 percent higher than the long-term average.

Here’s a link to the report.

Below is the DNR’s news release, issued today, about results of the May breeding waterfowl survey in Minnesota.

Breeding mallard numbers down, other species up from last year

(Released June 22, 2015)

Minnesota’s breeding mallard population counts are down from last year while other species saw increases, according to the results of the annual Minnesota Department of Natural Resources spring waterfowl surveys.

This year’s mallard breeding population was estimated at 206,000, which is 20 percent below last year’s estimate of 257,000 breeding mallards, 17 percent below the recent 10-year average and 10 percent above the long-term average measured since 1968.

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

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

The blue-winged teal population is 169,000 this year, 66 percent above the 2014 estimate of 102,000, but the population remains 21 percent below the long-term average of 212,000 blue-winged teal.

The combined populations of other ducks, such as ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads was 149,000, which is 29 percent higher than last year and 16 percent below the long-term average.

The estimate of total duck abundance (excluding scaup) was 524,000, similar to last year’s estimate of 474,000 ducks.

The estimated number of wetlands was 220,000, down 36 percent from last year, and 13 percent below the long-term average. Wetland numbers can vary greatly based on annual precipitation.

“We generally expect to see lower duck numbers during dry years. We did see lower mallard numbers this year, but blue-winged teal and other duck numbers were improved from last year,” said Steve Cordts, DNR waterfowl specialist. “In addition to our counts, the continental waterfowl population estimates will be released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service later this summer and they provide an indicator of what hunters can expect this fall.”

The same waterfowl survey has been conducted each year since 1968 to provide an annual index of breeding duck abundance. The survey covers 40 percent of the state that includes much of the best remaining duck breeding habitat in Minnesota.

A DNR waterfowl biologist and pilot count all waterfowl and wetlands along established survey routes by flying low-level aerial surveys from a fixed-wing plane. The survey is timed to begin in early May to coincide with peak nesting activity of mallards. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides ground crews who also count waterfowl along some of the same survey routes. These data are then used to correct for birds not seen by the aerial crew.

 CANADA GEESE
This year’s Canada goose population was estimated at 250,000 geese, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 244,000 geese. This doesn’t include an additional estimated 17,500 breeding Canada geese in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“The number of Canada geese in Minnesota remains high but the population has been very stable for many years. With the early spring this year, we should see a good hatch of goslings as well,” Cordts said.

The number of breeding Canada geese in the state is estimated via a helicopter survey of nesting Canada geese in 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.

The DNR will announce this fall’s waterfowl hunting regulations later this summer. Read the Minnesota waterfowl report online.

Want to go golfing for a good cause? Then consider signing up for the third annual Minnesota Waterfowl Association Charity Golf Tournament.

MWA_Golf_Logo_IIThe tournament will be held Monday, July 13, at the New Prague Golf Club in New Prague. The cost is $100 per player, though it’s $380 total if you sign up as a foursome. The event kicks off with a shotgun start at 1 p.m., and a dinner afterward is included with your entry fee.

In addition to opportunities to play in the event, we also have a number of sponsor opportunities. For more information about the event, click here.

Quick legislative update
At the time of this writing, some lawmakers were still optimistic a special session could be held as early as this weekend. Whenever it occurs, we’ll keep you posted. Remember, included in the special session will be the Legacy bill as well as the omnibus environment finance bill that includes budgets for agencies like the DNR, as well as Gov. Mark Dayton’s buffer initiative.

Below is a press release from a variety of national conservation organizations that details a victory for sportsmen as it relates to wetlands. It relates to an EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rule that “restores protections for wetlands, headwater streams vital to fish and wildlife.”

Washington, DC – The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today announced a long-awaited rule which will restore critical protections for wetlands and headwater streams that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and supply clean drinking water to one in three Americans. The announcement of the final clean water rule, which comes after more than a year of consultation with stakeholders, who generated more than one million comments, will give clarity to regulators as well as hunters and anglers, who have been unsure of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction following two Supreme Court decisions and administrative actions.

“This is a historic day that all sportsmen should welcome,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Nearly 15 years after legal confusion contributed to the first accelerated loss of waterfowl habitat in decades, we finally have a rule in place that will help stem the tide of wetlands loss and definitively restore water quality protections to trout habitat and salmon spawning waters. We want to commend the administration for making this long-anticipated day a reality.”

The clean water rule will restore protections to 60 percent of America’s stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands currently at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed because of Clean Water Act confusion. Protecting the health of these waters not only preserves coldwater fisheries and waterfowl habitat, but strengthens the local economies that rely on the 6 million jobs created by our country’s $200-billion outdoor recreation industry annually.

“This rule was crafted through a very thorough process, one in which hundreds of thousands of Americans participated,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “A vast majority of Americans support the rule and the protection of our country’s headwater streams, because they understand the need to protect our priceless water resources. And in a time of drought and changing climate, these resources are even more precious.”

Today’s announcement does not expand the Clean Water Act, but rather restores—and in some cases, enhances—critical protections to two major categories of waters: tributaries to waters already covered by the Clean Water Act, and the wetlands, lakes, and other waters located adjacent to, or within the floodplain of, these tributaries. In an important win for wildlife, the final rule also restores protection to some non-adjacent wetlands, which provide breeding grounds for as much as seventy percent of the nation’s duck population.

“By restoring Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands, the Army Corps and EPA are taking decisive action that benefits outdoor recreation, public health, and our economy,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “This action is grounded in science and common sense, and it gives a tremendous boost to efforts nationwide to conserve essential water resources and sustain our outdoor heritage.”

“This important final rule provides clarity on protections for the lifeblood of many of our country’s prized fisheries,” says Benjamin Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “The health of these headwaters sets the tone for all waters downstream and creates the backbone of our nation’s water resources. If we as a nation fail to protect our headwater streams and wetlands, we could jeopardize the economy of the hunting and fishing industry and put millions of people out of work.”

Over 40 million Americans rely on clean water for hunting and angling. Sportsmen were among the leading advocates for passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and that support held throughout the campaign for this much needed rule clarification. In fact, more than 200 sportsmen and conservation groups signed a letter calling for action to restore protections for wetlands and headwater streams.

“The clean water rule is good for our business, which depends on clean, fishable water,” says Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of the Orvis Company. “Improving the quality of fishing in America translates directly to our bottom line, to the numbers of employees we hire right here in America, and to the health of our brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.”

John Doerr, CEO of Pure Fishing, the world’s largest fishing tackle manufacturer, says, “Our outdoor recreation economy is totally dependent on healthy watersheds for our fishable waters, and the Clean Water Act is the number one protection we have to ensure the future of our industry.”

“My company depends on people enjoying their time recreating outside, especially in or near watersheds,” says Travis Campbell, president and CEO of Far Bank Enterprises and a board member for the Outdoor Industry Association—the group that produced this report on the outdoor recreation economy. “Clarifying which waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act isn’t a nice-to-have, it is a business imperative, with outdoor recreation contributing $80 billion in local, state, and federal taxes. In order to sustain the growth and success of the industry, not to mention the enjoyment of these opportunities for further generations, we need to ensure we are caring for the infrastructure that supports American experiences like fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.”

Despite the release of the final rule today, the protection of America’s waters remains at risk as Congress considers legislation to undermine the rule even after it’s finalized.

“The process worked as it should, with the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency making numerous improvements and clarifications to the rule based on the public comments,” says Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The final rule balances the urgent need to protect our nation’s essential water resources with landowners’ desire for clarity.”

The 2015 legislative session began in early January and adjourned at the end of the day on May 18. But if conservation and natural resources in Minnesota are your things, then the session really hasn’t ended.
That’s because a special session is on tap for sometime in June to deal with some major issues that didn’t get resolved. Among the natural resources topics likely to be hashed out during a special session are the Legacy bill (which the House passed but the Senate did not because of time constraints) and the environment and agriculture omnibus finance and policy bill (which Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed).

The Legacy bill is a good bill that included the spending recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. But that bill also includes money from the Clean Water Fund, which is the reason it’s tied in with the vetoed environment finance bill.

A buffer plan that emerged from the Minnesota Pheasant Summit in December is included in one of the bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed.

A buffer plan that emerged from the Minnesota Pheasant Summit in December is included in one of the bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed.

That finance bill includes Gov. Dayton’s buffer strip proposal, so it tells you something when he vetoes a bill that carries one of his priorities for the session. As part of the Legacy bill, $11 million per year from the Clean Water Fund would be used to implement the buffer strips initiative. So both bills really need to pass for either one of them to be effective.

In order to avoid a partial shutdown of the state government, budget bills must be passed in June. If they’re not, a partial shutdown would begin July 1. Agencies like the Board of Water and Soil Resources, DNR, and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency would be affected because their biennial budgets are part of the environment finance bill.

Legislative leaders and Dayton already have been meeting to begin working toward agreement on what a special session will look like. When we have more details, we’ll pass them along.

There’s still time – but not much – to register kids for Woodie Camp 2015. The application deadline is today. Click here for a link to the application.

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2014 Woodie Camp.

Kids who want to participate in the camp must be 13 to 15 years old and have passed a certified firearms safety training course before the camp, which runs Aug. 9-15.

Successful applicants will be notified by June 5.

From the Legislature
There’s still not a whole lot to report from our state’s Capitol. The legislative session ends on Monday, May 18, so time is running short. So far, there’s no agreement on an overall budget, and lawmakers haven’t agreed on bills that appropriate Legacy funds or that set new game and fish policies. (The latter often are part of a Game and Fish Bill, but there are indications lawmakers won’t pass one this session.)

In addition, lawmakers haven’t approved an overall environment and natural resources budget. Things are really getting down to the wire. Stay tuned and we’ll do our best to keep you informed.

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association continues to support Gov. Mark Dayton’s Buffer Initiative, which would require 50-foot buffers around waterways in Minnesota.

Image courtesy of USFWS

Image courtesy of USFWS

The idea was borne at the Pheasant Summit in December, and Dayton announced his vision for such a program at the DNR Roundtable event in January. It took time for the idea to take the shape of legislation, but the eventually happened, too.

The Buffer Initiative has been the source of a fair amount of controversy and much media attention. However, Gov. Dayton seems to have made this initiative something of his environmental centerpiece for this session – he even mentioned it at his State of the State address. It’s not too often that a governor pushes hard for something and doesn’t get at least part of it.

So while legislation that makes the Buffer Initiative reality may not look exactly as Dayton envisioned, it’s a pretty good bet that something will get done on the matter this session. After all, there’s still about a month left, and so much can happen in that time.

So, for the time being, the Minnesota Waterfowl Association, as part of the Buffers Now Coalition, will continue its support for the initiative, which has clean water as well as wildlife benefits. Stay tuned to see what ultimately comes out of the Legislature.