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Gazette Outdoors

An annual U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report on breeding duck numbers and May habitat conditions showed population decreases in nine of the 10 most common ducks species.

Estimates suggest that despite an 18 percent increase in pond numbers on breeding grounds, the total number of breeding ducks declined by 14 percent, falling from 42 million birds in 2000 to 36.1 million in 2001.

Ducks Unlimited chief biologist Bruce Batt said this year’s survey is not devastating news but is worth watching.

“Even though the pond counts are up overall, it’s so much drier than usual on some of the birds’ most important breeding grounds, namely western Saskatchewan, Alberta and Montana, that habitat gains in the eastern prairies are overwhelmed by losses further west," Batt said.

Hunters and wildlife enthusiasts in the west generally will have fewer birds in the fall flight and hunters may notice, he said. People in the east probably will have a fall flight similar to last year, which was good.

Don Young, DU’s executive vice president, said that waterfowl populations naturally fluctuate, so this dip in numbers should not cause too much concern. “We’ve enjoyed generally wet prairies and record high waterfowl populations for several years now," he said. “If we want to sustain those populations, we much work effectively in all areas of the breeding grounds across North America, so that wherever it’s wet the birds will have a chance to thrive."

Declining numbers of pintails in recent years have been a major cause of concern. The most unexpected result of the survey is that pintails actually show an increase from 2.9 million in 2000 to 3.2 million in 2001, officials said.

Batt said the pintail population is still 41 percent below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan goal. “But we have more pintails than we’ve seen for several years in the best prairie habitat so their numbers should actually go up," he said.

The NAWMP is a plan for restoring North America’s duck, goose and swan populations at levels similar to those seen in the 1970s. According to FWS, this year four of the 10 surveyed species are below their NAWMP goals: mallards, pintails, scaup and wigeon.

DU is the world’s largest wetland and waterfowl conservation organization. The United States has lost more than half of its original wetlands and continues to lose more than 109,000 wetland acres every years, the group said.