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Mallard ducks (Herald file photo)

Strong populations of most duck species lead feds to recommend liberal bag limits again this year

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service again is proposing the “liberal” package of regulations for this fall’s late waterfowl seasons.

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States in each of the four flyways select their individual seasons from within the federal frameworks that establish the earliest beginning and latest ending dates and maximum season lengths and bag limits.

Despite the ongoing loss of grassland and wetland habitat, duck populations remain substantially higher than long-term averages across North America. According to the Service’s 2014 Waterfowl Population Status Report, the estimated spring continental duck population was 49.2 million, up 8 percent from last year’s 45.6 million and 43 percent higher than the long-term average from 1955 to 2013.

As called for under liberal regulations, North Dakota and other Central Flyway states can offer a 74-day duck season again this fall. North Dakota’s early Canada goose season opens Friday and calls for a limit of 15 daily and 45 in possession.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department will announce details of its regular fall waterfowl seasons later this month.

Minnesota opener

In Minnesota, the Department of Natural Resources on Thursday announced that waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise Sept. 27. Minnesota and other Mississippi Flyway states can offer a season of no more than 60 days, and the DNR said this year’s season will be similar to last year, with similar bag limits and season dates that vary for north, central and southern zones.

In all zones, the daily bag limit remains at six ducks per day. The mallard bag limit remains at four per day, including two hen mallards. The wood duck bag limit remains at three per day. The only bag limit change from the 2013 waterfowl season is the canvasback limit, which decreases from two to one per day.

Minnesota and three other states in the Mississippi Flyway had the option of including two additional blue-winged teal in the daily bag limit but opted not to do so this year.

“We thought the risk that green-winged teal might be taken by mistake was too great,” said Paul Telander, DNR wildlife section chief. “In addition, we did not get a chance to survey waterfowl hunters or take any form of public input related to bonus teal. We plan to do that within the next year.”

Mallard abundance from a continental spring survey that includes Minnesota is used to set overall duck season length. This year’s estimate was 11 million mallards, which was similar to last year’s estimate of 10.8 million mallards and well above the long-term average.

In another measure of Minnesota duck populations, a population index of resident breeding mallards was down slightly from last year, but 13 percent above the long-term average.

“Continental breeding duck numbers were good this year, and following heavy rains in the spring, wetland conditions in the major waterfowl breeding areas were favorable,” said Steve Cordts, waterfowl specialist for the DNR.

N.D. outlook

In North Dakota, the Game and Fish Department’s annual spring breeding duck survey tallied an index of 4.9 million birds, up 23 percent from last year and 110 percent above the long-term average from 1948 to 2013.

Despite the looming loss of habitat, duck numbers remain high in North Dakota, thanks to abundant water and good nesting cover. Duck numbers in North Dakota during the past two decades are the highest since survey records began in 1948.

How long that will continue remains to be seen. Mike Szymanski, waterfowl biologist for Game and Fish in Bismarck, said the loss of Conservation Reserve Program land was evident this year as contracts continue to expire and large tracts of the set-aside land return to ag production.

“The loss of grass will hurt production of ducks and other grassland nesting birds,” Szymanski said. “However, the recent overly wet conditions are helping bridge the gap a little bit for ducks.”

Here’s a look at the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recommended season frameworks for the four U.S. flyways.

Central Flyway

(Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):

Ducks: Duck season frameworks are between Sept. 27 and Jan. 25, 2015. The daily bag limit is six ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: five mallards, no more than two of which may be females; three wood ducks, three scaup, two pintails, two redheads, one canvasback and one mottled duck. Mottled ducks may not be taken during the first five days of the regular season in Texas. In the High Plains Mallard Management Unit (roughly west of the 100th Meridian), a 97-day season is proposed, and the last 23 days can start no earlier than Dec. 13. A 74-day season is proposed for the remainder of the Central Flyway.

Geese: States may select seasons between Sept. 27 and Feb. 15, 2015, for dark geese and between Sept. 27 and March 10, 2015, for light geese. East-tier states are able to select a 107-day season for Canada geese with a daily bag limit of eight. For white-fronted geese, east-tier states will be able to select either a 74-day season with a daily bag limit of two birds or an 88 day season with a daily bag limit of one bird. In the west-tier, states may select a 107-day dark goose season with a daily bag limit of five birds. In the Western Goose Zone of Texas, the state could select a 95-day season with a daily bag limit of five dark geese (including no more than one white-fronted goose). For light geese, all states would be able to select a 107-day season with a daily bag limit of 50.

Mississippi Flyway

(Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin):

Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between Sept. 27 and Jan. 25, 2015. The proposed daily bag limit is six and may include no more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, one mottled duck, two redheads, three scaup, two pintails, one black duck and one canvasback. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers. In states that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the same as the duck bag limit, only two which may be hooded mergansers.

Geese: Generally, seasons for Canada goose would be held between Sept. 27 and Jan. 31, 2015, and vary in length among states and areas. States would be able to select seasons for light geese not to exceed 107 days with 20 geese daily between Sept. 27 and March 10, 2015; for white-fronted geese the proposed season would not exceed 74 days with a two-bird daily bag limit or 88 days with a one-bird daily bag limit between Sept. 27 and Feb. 15, 2015; and for brant it would not exceed 70 days with a one-bird daily bag limit or 107 days with a one-bird daily bag limit between Sept. 27 and Jan. 31, 2015.

Atlantic Flyway

(Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia):

  •  Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between Sept. 27 and Jan. 25, 2015. The proposed daily bag limit is six and may include no more than four mallards (two hens), four scoters, three wood ducks, two redheads, two scaup, one black duck, two pintails, one canvasback, one mottled duck and one fulvous whistling duck. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers. In states that include mergansers in the duck bag limit, the daily limit is the same as the duck bag limit, only two of which may be hooded mergansers.
  •  Geese: For light geese, states will be able to select a 107-day season between Oct. 1 and March 10, 2015, with a daily bag limit of 25 birds and no possession limit. Seasons for Canada geese would vary in length among states and areas depending on the populations of birds that occur in those areas. The daily bag limit will be five birds in hunt zones established for resident populations of Canada geese. In hunt zones established for migratory populations, bag limits will be five or fewer and vary among states and areas. For Atlantic brant, the season length may be 30 days with a daily bag limit of two.

Pacific Flyway

(Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):

  •  Ducks: States are allowed a 107-day general duck season between Sept. 27 and Jan. 25, 2015. The proposed daily bag limit is seven ducks and mergansers, including no more than two female mallards, two redheads, two pintails, one canvasback and three scaup. For scaup, the season length can be 86 days, which may be split according to applicable zones/split duck hunting configurations approved for each state.
  •  Geese: States may select a 107-day season between Sept. 27 and Jan. 25, 2015 for Canada geese, and between Sept. 27 and March 10, 2015 for light geese and white-fronted geese. Proposed basic daily bag limits are 20 light geese, 10 white-fronted geese, and four Canada geese. There are numerous exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese in many states, so hunters should consult state regulations for specific details. For brant, the proposed season lengths are 16 days in Oregon and Washington and 30 days in California, with a two-bird daily limit. Washington and California are able to choose seasons in each of the two zones described in state regulations.

 Minnesota waterfowl regulations at a glance

Here’s a closer look at Minnesota’s regular fall duck and goose seasons, which the Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday:

Ducks

  •  In the north duck zone (north of state Highway 210), the duck season will run from Sept. 27, through Tuesday, Nov. 25.
  •  In the central duck zone, the duck season will run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5, and Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.
  •  In the south duck zone (south of U.S. Highway 212), the duck season will run from Sept. 27 through Sept. 29 and Oct. 11 through Dec. 6.

Youth waterfowl day

Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 13. Hunters age 15 and younger may take regular season bag limits when accompanied by an adult age 18 or older. The accompanying adult can’t hunt that day and does not need a license. Canada geese, mergansers, coots and moorhens may be taken from a half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. Motorized decoy restrictions are in effect. Five geese may be taken statewide.

Canada goose hunting

Canada goose hunting is open in the three duck zones, and also in an intensive harvest zone. For a map of the intensive zone and other information, see www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

Hunting dates and information:

  •  The August Canada goose management harvest opened Saturday and runs through Aug. 24 in the Intensive Harvest Zone of west-central Minnesota only. The bag limit is 10 per day. A $4 permit is required. This is the second year Canada goose harvest has been allowed during August due to high populations of Canada geese and agricultural crop depredation.
  •  The early September Canada goose season will open statewide Sept. 6 and run through Sept. 22. Bag limits for Canada geese are 10 per day in the Intensive Harvest Zone and five per day in the remainder of the state. A $4 permit is required to hunt Canada geese during the September season. The restriction prohibiting hunting within 100 yards of surface water remains in effect in the Northwest Goose Zone, Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, Ocheda Lake Game Refuge and an area surrounding Swan Lake in Nicollet County. Early season goose hunters should consult the 2014 Waterfowl Supplement for zone maps and additional details.
  •  Minnesota’s regular goose season will open in conjunction with the duck season statewide on Sept. 27, with a bag limit of three Canada geese per day the entire season. Goose season will be closed in the central and south duck zones when duck season is closed. In the north duck zone, goose season will run from Sept. 27 through Dec. 25. In the central duck zone, goose season will run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5, and Oct. 11, through Dec. 30. In the south duck zone, goose season will run from Sept. 27 through Sept. 29 and Oct. 11 through Jan. 5, 2015.

Sandhill crane season

  •  The season for sandhill cranes will run from Sept. 13 through Oct. 19 in the northwest goose and sandhill crane zone only. The daily bag limit will be one sandhill crane per day. A $3 sandhill crane permit is required in addition to a small game hunting license.
  •  The DNR reduced the bag limit from two per day to one this year in response to declines in breeding sandhill crane numbers.

Additional details on the duck, goose, sandhill crane, and other migratory bird hunting seasons will be available in the 2014 Minnesota Waterfowl Hunting Regulations, available in mid-August in booklet form and online at www.mndnr.gov/hunting/waterfowl.

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