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Round table focuses on boosting duck recovery

With the number of duck hunters dwindling and their frustrations growing, Minnesota wildlife officials plan to amp up their 2006 Long-Range Duck Recovery Program.

With the number of duck hunters dwindling and their frustrations growing, Minnesota wildlife officials plan to amp up their 2006 Long-Range Duck Recovery Program.

That initiative was announced Jan. 8 at the annual Fisheries, Wildlife and Ecological Services Roundtable in Minneapolis sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

"It seems like we're in crisis mode ..." Dave Schad, director of the DNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife, told some of the 350 in attendance. "I think everyone could agree things haven't gotten better. In fact, we've taken a step backward in habitat."

That's why the DNR is revisiting the duck plan to provide more concrete, short-term goals. The DNR will involve other agencies and organizations in the effort. Dennis Simon, the DNR's chief of wildlife, said the agency plans to:

- Form a steering committee by Feb. 12.

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- Hold a ducks summit meeting by April 30.

- Convene a technical team and complete a draft implementation plan by Oct. 1.

- Hold a second ducks summit meeting in January 2011.

- Complete a final draft plan by May 2011.

That's an "aggressive" time line, Simon said. But several in attendance at the Roundtable thought it wasn't aggressive enough and that hunters are growing weary of more meetings and discussions.

Ray Norrgard, the DNR's wetlands and waterfowl coordinator, defended the timeline.

"The first plan covered 50 years," Norrgard said. "That should have been a red light to people. This is a monumental project. We may not have a lot of success in the next decade."

Ryan Heiniger, director of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited in Minnesota and Iowa, supports the new look at duck recovery and hopes it can be formulated in six to 12 months.

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"We have five years under our belts (since the original plan in 2006). We've learned some things," he said. "We know the cost of doing business. We'll be able to project more accurately."

The state's original Duck Recovery Plan is a 50-year effort with goals of 1 million ducks in Minnesota's spring breeding population, 140,000 duck hunters and 2 million additional acres of wetland/grassland habitat. It carried a price tag of $3 billion or $64 million per year.

Currently, breeding duck populations are about half the stated goal, and hunter numbers have dropped to less than 90,000. Although some gains are being made in wetland restoration, the wholesale losses of grasslands continue as farmers put those lands back into crops. This past fall's duck harvest is expected to be dismal when final results are in, following several years of low harvests.

Dale Humburg, Ducks Unlimited's chief biologist, helped craft a duck recovery when he was a wildlife official in Missouri. He believes the DNR's goals are achievable in time.

"Sure. But it took 50 to 70 years to hammer the landscape. It's going to take some time to repair it," Humburg said. "We're talking about habitat needs on a landscape scale."

The DNR's Schad said the agency also will take a look at changes in duck hunting regulations. Those might include designating a portion of Wildlife Management Areas as nonhunting refuges, half-day hunting on public areas and assigning hunters to blinds.

In other news from the Roundtable:

- The DNR plans to hire a full-time ruffed grouse coordinator, a position it has never had. The coordinator's salary would be paid in part by the Ruffed Grouse Society, Simon said.

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- The search for a new DNR fisheries chief has been narrowed from 40 applicants to four finalists. They are Dirk Peterson, acting fisheries chief and central region fisheries supervisor in St. Paul; Jason Moeckel, DNR operations support supervisor in St. Paul; Tim Schlagenhaft, DNR regional operations director in Lake City, Minn.; and Steve Perry, fisheries chief in New Hampshire.

- The DNR will use fishing legend Al Lindner to help promote sales of its voluntary $5 walleye stamp this year.

The Duluth News Tribune and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Related Topics: HUNTINGWILDLIFE
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