There’s one thing natural resources types might know better than, well, natural resources.
But as those agencies’ responsibility is managing those resources, that’s probably inevitable. Ultimately — and maybe even sadly — for those resource managers, ducks, deer, walleye, whatever become numbers, a blur of surveys and studies, facts and figures.
And because those figures can be so varied, representing everything from the short-term scenario — the difference between this year and the last — to long-term averages, those numbers can be, well, a bit misleading.
So North Dakota duck hunters, don’t get your feathers ruffled. And Wisconsin duck hunters, don’t get too excited.
In North Dakota earlier this week, the state Game and Fish Department released the findings from its annual spring breeding duck survey. Conducted in May, it showed an index of 3.4 million birds, down 5 percent from last year.
According to the NDGFD, survey results indicated all species except ruddy ducks (up 19 percent) and gadwall (up 4 percent) decreased from their 2015 estimates, while shovelers remained unchanged. Down were mallards (9 percent), pintails (17 percent) and canvasbacks (18 percent).
But it’s also important to note that all species, with the exception of pintails and canvasbacks, were above the long-term average (1948-2015). And it’s thought that a July brood survey will provide an even better idea of duck production and further insight into expectations for the all-important fall, so reason for even more hope.
Also this week, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources indicated in its spring waterfowl survey that the state’s breeding duck population was estimated at 390,498. That’s an increase of 5 percent from last year — but it’s 12 percent below the long-term, 43-year average.
None of the species-specific population estimates for the three top breeding ducks in Wisconsin (mallards, blue-winged teals and wood ducks) were statistically different compared to 2015, according to a DNR release on the survey.
“Each duck species population estimate normally varies from year to year, so I urge hunters and other conservationists to interpret this information over several years and in the continental context,” Kent Van Horn, DNR migratory bird ecologist, said in the release. “For example, the blue-winged teal breeding population in Wisconsin is lower than historic levels, but continental estimates the last few years have reached all-time highs, and two-thirds of Wisconsin’s regular duck season blue-winged teal harvest comes from out of state.”
According to the DNR, roughly 70 percent of the mallard harvest in Wisconsin is supported by locally hatched ducks, and the average mallard population in the last few years has been lower than the previous decade. This observation suggests that continued efforts aimed at controlling mallard harvest impacts and support for grassland nesting habitat conservation are important to the future of Wisconsin’s local mallard population.
Yes, habitat. In North Dakota, Mike Szymanski, NDGFD migratory game bird supervisor, said the number of temporary and seasonal wetlands was substantially lower than last year, with the spring water index down 50 percent. According to the NDGFD, the water index is based on basins with water and does not necessarily represent the amount of water contained in wetlands or the type of wetlands represented.
“The total breeding duck index is still in the top 20 all-time, so there is still a lot of potential for good production this year,” Szymanski said, looking ahead to the July brood survey. “Hopefully, improved wetlands conditions since the May survey will carry through into increased wetland availability for duck broods.”
And, in turn, make for better duck numbers. So North Dakota duck hunters who might have been down with this May survey could be back up come July.
Ah, the rollercoaster life of a duck hunter.