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OUTDOORS NOTEBOOK: North Dakota spring duck index declines, Boaters traveling out of state should know invasive species regs etc.

N.D. spring duck index declines

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's 70th annual spring breeding duck survey conducted in May showed an index of 2.95 million birds, down 15 percent from last year.

The index is below 3 million for the first time since 1994, but it still stands 23 percent above the long-term average since 1948 and is the 24th highest on record, Mike Szymanski, migratory game bird supervisor for Game and Fish, said.

"Fortunately, we still have a lot of ducks," Szymanski said.

Survey results indicate canvasbacks (up 23 percent), pintails (up 5 percent) and redheads (up 2 percent) increased from their 2016 estimates, while shovelers were unchanged. Mallards were fairly stable (down 5 percent), while ruddy ducks showed the largest decrease (down 36 percent). All other ducks were 16 percent to 28 percent below last year's numbers. Most species, with the exception of pintails, blue-winged teal and ruddy ducks, were well above the 69-year average.

The number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was higher than last year, as figures show the spring water index is up 78 percent, but that is misleading, Szymanski said.

"Last year's water index was very low during our survey and was followed by a lot of rain in late spring," he said. "When you combine that with winter snow melt, the temporary and seasonal wetlands had water during the survey but were struggling to hang on. It's been quite dry since we did the survey, and once again those wetlands are dry."

Szymanski said because of habitat concerns, it looks like there might be a struggle to produce ducks, with the exception of the northeast portion of the state and to a lesser degree the northern tier.

"We've lost a lot of nesting cover since 2007, and now we are going into summer without much water," he said. "I just don't think the ducks will have very good production in a lot of areas."

The July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall, he said.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

Traveling boaters should check ANS regs

North Dakota boaters who are traveling to other states or Canadian provinces should check the aquatic nuisance species regulations of their destination to make sure they are in compliance, the Game and Fish Department advises.

While many of North Dakota's ANS prevention regulations are similar to surrounding states and provinces, state Game and Fish Department ANS coordinator Jessica Howell says there are some subtle differences that could lead to travel interruption or citations depending on the circumstances.

"Removal of all water and vegetation, as well as pulled plugs while traveling, are generally the rule in neighboring states and provinces," Howell said. "But there are some places where 'dry' is also a requirement, meaning no residual water anywhere in the boat."

Mandatory boat inspections may be required based on destination or route taken. For example, Howell said anyone pulling a boat into Canada likely will have it inspected at a border crossing. Some states, including Montana, have inspection checkpoints along highways, and some lakes have inspectors at boat ramps. Any boats that are not in compliance will likely get delayed in their travels or be prevented from launching, Howell said.

Boaters should check the website of the state or province to which they are traveling for more information.

More info: gf.nd.gov.

-- N.D. Game and Fish Department

Angler ties his own state record

A suburban Twin Cities angler has tied his own state record fish in the catch-and-release length category with a 49-inch flathead catfish, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said.

Jake Robinson of Shakopee, Minn., caught and released the new record flathead May 15 on the Minnesota River near Savage, Minn. He caught the 49-inch fish on 100-pound test line, and it had a 33½-inch girth, identical to his previous record caught June 7, 2016. Because of different markings, they appeared to be two distinct fish.

Robinson, an experienced catfish angler, has some advice for those targeting flathead catfish.

"Stay on the move every 20 minutes if you don't get a bite," Robinson said.

There are two kinds of Minnesota state records: one for catching and keeping the biggest fish in each species based on certified weight; and the other for the length of a caught and released muskellunge, lake sturgeon or flathead catfish.

Mike Kurre, the DNR's mentoring program coordinator, recommends anglers become familiar with the record-fish guidelines and be ready to take the required photos and go through the correct procedures for submitting a record—especially when equipped with the fishing tackle and on waters where they might catch record fish.

Info: mndnr.gov/recordfish.

-- Minnesota DNR

Ask the DNR

Q. Why is it important not to disturb roadside ditches during the spring and summer?

A. Roadside ditches are highly productive nesting sites, and they provide some of the most valuable wildlife habitat available in the state. More than 40 kinds of birds and animals nest on the ground or in low vegetative cover. These include pheasants, gray partridge, rabbits, waterfowl and songbirds. Because each species has its own nesting habits—when and how many times per year they rear young --- this habitat receives continuous use from spring until late summer.

Unfortunately, thousands of nesting sites are destroyed annually due to haying, off-highway vehicle traffic, crop encroachment, blanket spraying and herbicide drift from adjacent fields. These disturbances can occur at any time, but they have the most impact during the month of June, when hens are on the nest raising young. Planting native prairie vegetation would prevent most nest disturbances because a ditch would not need to be hayed until crops are harvested at the end of the nesting season. Native prairie plants, once established, also reduce the presence of weeds and are better suited for producing wildlife.

-- Pete Schaefer, DNR wildlife technician

Report: Sage grouse, energy can coexist

WASHINGTON—Only a fraction of greater sage grouse habitat is capable of producing energy of any kind, now or in the future, with 79 percent of areas with medium to high potential for energy development falling outside of grouse habitat, a new report from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers shows.

Prepared by Western EcoSystems Technology Inc., the report looks at sage grouse priority habitat management areas identified by the Bureau of Land Management in sage grouse management plans and evaluates the overlap between these areas and existing leases and rights-of-way for energy development. The report also analyzes development potential for oil and gas, solar and wind energy on public lands located within those priority areas.

John Gale, BHA conservation director, called the report's results "highly consequential" given the Interior Department's decision to review sage grouse management plans. He also stressed the need to continue the historic, multi-stakeholder effort to conserve sage grouse habitat, an effort that has averted the bird's listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Declines in historic sage grouse populations and habitat led to the bird's consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In late 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined a listing "not warranted" at that time, citing that implementation of the conservation plans is foundational to that decision.

-- Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

Did you know?

• The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's annual Watchable Wildlife Photo Contest now is open, and the deadline for submissions is Oct. 2. The contest has categories for nongame and game species, as well as plants and insects. More info: gf.nd.gov.

• The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has openings for Hike the Maah Daah Hey Trail, a Becoming an Outdoors-Woman event scheduled for July 15-16. The workshop is designed for women with previous hiking or backpacking skills, or who are in good physical condition. Participants will hike a 13-mile portion of the trail near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Activity is strenuous due to rough terrain. The $30 fee includes group gear and transportation to and from the CCC Campground. Each participant must provide their own personal gear and meals. Info: Brian Schaffer, (701) 328-6312 or by email to ndgf@nd.gov.

• The North Dakota Game and Fish Department's next guide and outfitter written examination is is set for 1 p.m. Aug. 12 at Game and Fish headquarters, 100 N. Bismarck Expressway, in Bismarck. Info: (701) 328-6604.

-- compiled by Brad Dokken

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