Call it a doubleheader, a twinbill. The early duck survey report is encouraging, but we have that oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with disastrous effects likely in the Louisiana marshes.
What do these two issues mean for Arkansas waterfowl hunters? And when we say waterfowl hunters, it means something like 98 percent duck hunters, 2 percent goose hunters in our state.
A quick summary of the early duck report: The total duck population estimates dropped slightly to 40.9 million from last year’s 42 million, mallard numbers were steady at 8.4 million, scaup numbers rose slightly to 4.2 million, and the northern pintail population bumped up 9 percent to 3.5 million. But blue-wing teal were down 14 percent.
One prediction is that with the 2010 duck numbers nearly equal those of a year ago, a 60-day duck hunting season is to be expected — but not guaranteed at this point. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will take a look at the possible duck season at its July 15 meeting in Little Rock. Then the official parameters will be handed down by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service in early August, and the Arkansas duck season will be set by the AGFC at its meeting later in August.
A Ducks Unlimited official was cautious about the upcoming hunting season.
Dale Humburg, chief biologist for DU, said, "I would expect to see a fall flight similar to last year’s. But everyone must keep in mind that weather and habitat strongly influence the timing and distribution of ducks in the fall flight, and these factors are very dynamic. Although I’m optimistic about the 2010 fall flight, it’s several months before the season opens, and a lot could happen to migration and wintering habitat before then."
Now, that oil spill. Arkansas duck hunters are deeply concerned about what impact the BP oil spill will have on the 5 million or so ducks that will begin arriving in the Gulf of Mexico less than two months from now.
"The oil spill is an environmental disaster that could affect ducks and duck hunters for years to come," said Dr. Frank Rohwer of Louisiana State University who is also on the staff of Delta Waterfowl. "We have no experience with this kind of disaster, so it’s impossible to predict what will happen.
"It would appear that diving ducks like scaup, canvasbacks and redheads will be most at risk because they sit in the coastal bays where there has been a lot of oil in recent weeks."
Rohwer said it’s possible large numbers of dabblers could also be affected by oil, but calls that a worst-case scenario and only should occur if a tropical storm pushes oil into the freshwater portions of the marsh where dabbling ducks are typically found. "There’s no way to know if ducks will move around to avoid the oil," Rohwer said. "Ducks have no experience with oil, so they may have little predisposition to avoid it.
"The bottom line is while we need to find ways to mitigate the damage caused by the Deepwater spill and ensure the long-term viability of coastal wetlands, we can’t ignore the challenges ducks face on the breeding grounds."
Delta Waterfowl, a conservation organization headquartered in Bismarck, N.D., raises a point that may surprise some Arkansas waterfowl enthusiasts.
The good news last year and this year focused on the pond count in the Canadian breeding grounds of ducks and on the population estimates. The weather was wetter so there were more ponds, meaning more habitat for breeding ducks.
But, Delta Waterfowl reports, there is a gradual shift in duck breeding, with the upper Midwest of the United States producing more ducks and the Canadian prairie provinces producing fewer ducks.
All right, we anticipate the reaction from Arkansas hunters. "I don’t care where that greenhead is born as long as it comes down here where I can have a shot at it."
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.