FROM THE DAKOTAS
Spring Breeding Duck Numbers Tallied
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.
Migratory game bird supervisor Mike Szymanski said even though the index is below 3 million for the first time since 1994, it still stands 23 percent above the long-term average (1948-2016) and is the 24th highest on record.
�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 16-28 percent below last year�s numbers. However, 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. However, Szymanski said that is misleading.
�Last year�s water index was very low during our survey, and was followed by a lot of rain in late spring,� he added. �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.�
Szymanski said there were also areas struggling to attract pairs of ducks where he expected to see better numbers. �There was a fair bit of water in bigger basins, but those larger water areas aren�t attractive to ducks, as they look for smaller wetlands, and those were drying up.�
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.
Szymanski said the July brood survey will provide a better idea of duck production and insight into expectations for this fall.
�And as we have seen in recent years, a lot depends on bird movements before and during hunting seasons, and weather patterns during the migration,� he said.�
Spring Pheasant Count Down from Last Year
North Dakota’s spring pheasant population index is down 14 percent from last year, according to the State Game and Fish Department’s 2017 spring crowing count survey.
R.J. Gross, upland game management biologist, said the number of roosters heard crowing this spring was down statewide, with decreases ranging from 6 to 10 percent in the primary regions holding pheasants.
“December and January provided a rough start to winter, with record snowfall and extremely cold temperatures making it less than ideal for all wildlife,” Gross said. “In addition, last year’s production was below average, so we entered this spring with a lower than average number of adult upland birds.”
While the spring number is an indicator, Gross said it does not predict what the fall population will look like. Brood surveys, which begin in late July and are completed by September, provide a much better estimate of summer pheasant production and what hunters might expect for a fall pheasant population.
“Currently, we have many pheasant broods starting to show up around the countryside,” Gross said. “I am hopeful production on all our upland game birds this summer will be average.”
Pheasant crowing counts are conducted each spring throughout North Dakota. Observers drive specified 20-mile routes, stopping at predetermined intervals, and counting the number of pheasant roosters heard crowing over a two-minute period during the stop.
The number of pheasant crows heard is compared to previous years’ data, providing a trend summary.
2016 Early Canada Goose Harvest Again Tops 36,000
For the sixth consecutive year, North Dakota early Canada goose season hunters bagged more than 36,000 birds, according to a recent harvest estimate released by the state Game and Fish Department. This is the combined harvest from the August Canada goose management take, and the September Canada goose hunting season.
The 2017 early Canada goose season is tentatively slated to start on Aug. 15 again, with a similar structure as in recent years.
While the 2016 harvest is somewhat lower than the peak early season bag in recent years, Game and Fish migratory game bird management supervisor Mike Szymanski says it’s still a highly successful season in the department’s effort to reign in the state’s resident Canada goose population.
Szymanski estimates that approximately 3,600 residents and 1,000 nonresidents who actually hunted averaged about 10 birds apiece for the combined effort in August and September, which started Aug. 15 with a “management take.”
The regular early hunting season started Sept. 1 and ran through Sept. 7 in the Missouri River zone, and through Sept. 15 in the rest of the state. In total, that’s about 18 percent fewer hunters than participated in 2015, a fact that Szymanski attributes to extensive late summer movement of Canada geese, which made finding huntable numbers of birds difficult in many areas.
“This late summer waterfowl movement is something that seems to be more pronounced in recent years,” Szymanski said. “Birds that were produced in North Dakota are showing up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan by early September. We don’t know if it’s related to avoiding hunting pressure or availability of food, as there’s very little harvested small grain fields for feeding in some areas. It could even relate to the birds trying to find cooler temperatures during years when we seem to be warmer than normal in the state.”
Barnes and Ramsey counties had the highest numbers of birds harvested by resident hunters, while McIntosh and LaMoure counties had the highest number of Canada geese harvested by nonresident hunters.
The top 10 counties for total harvest were Ramsey, McIntosh, Kidder, Benson, Stutsman, Barnes, LaMoure, McHenry, Nelson and Ward. Ramsey County had more than 3,000 birds harvested, while the estimate for Ward County in 10th place was 1,207.
“We’re seeing a good harvest in the eastern half of the state where there seems to be the most conflicts between crop producers and geese during the summer,” Szymanski said. “We need to keep the pressure on to keep our locally breeding Canada goose population from growing any larger.”
It’s really important for landowners experiencing depredation issues to allow goose hunters on their property not only during the early season, Szymanski said, but also in October and November as birds that may have made late-summer movements come back through the state.
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Supreme court decision prompts GFP action on Non-Meandered Waters
PIERRE, S.D. - In compliance with the recent Supreme Court ruling in Duerre v. Hepler, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) is closing Department-managed boat launches on non-meandered bodies of water.
"Recreational access to non-meandered waters is a complex issue that has impacted our state for decades," said Kelly Hepler, GFP department secretary. "Under this Supreme Court decision, GFP cannot facilitate access to non-meandered waters for recreational purposes."
According to the Supreme Court, the South Dakota State Legislature must determine whether and how the public may use non-meandered waters for recreational purposes. GFP cannot facilitate access to these waters until the State Legislature acts.
To comply with the Supreme Court ruling, GFP is posting signage and limiting access to infrastructure at the following water bodies, with the potential of additional water bodies to be added:
- Caseys Slough, Cottonwood Lake GPA, Dry Lake #1, Dry Lake #2 and Swan Lake in Clark County;
- Deep Lake and Goose Lake in Codington County;
- East Krause Lake, Lynn Lake, Middle Lynn Lake and Reetz Lake in Day County;
- North Scatterwood Lake in Edmunds County;
- Three Buck Lake in Hamlin County;
- Bullhead Lake and Cattail-Kettle Lake in Marshall County;
- Keisz Lake in McPherson County;
- Grass Lake, Loss Lake, Scott Lake and Twin Lakes in Minnehaha County;
- Twin Lakes in Sanborn County;
- Cottonwood Lake and Mud Lake in Spink County; and
- Dog Ear Lake in Tripp County.
Public notice signs will be posted in these areas by the end of April.
In accordance with the Supreme Court ruling, the Department has halted fish stockings, creel surveys, canoe and kayak rentals, permitting of fishing tournaments and special events, and facilitating access for ice fishing for the listed water bodies.
For more information, visit http://gfp.sd.gov/fishing-boating/courtruling.aspx.
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New Law Moves Pheasant Opener to Oct. 7
A new law passed by the North Dakota Legislature will result in the State Game and Fish Department to propose Oct. 7 as opening day of the 2017 pheasant hunting season, one week earlier than what the department earlier announced.
Senate Bill 2318, signed into law March 14, requires North Dakota’s pheasant season to open no later than Oct. 12.
Game and Fish Department director Terry Steinwand said the new law means the pheasant hunting season will no longer always open on the second Saturday in October, which has been the case for more than 20 years.
With the regular pheasant season opening a week earlier, Game and Fish will propose that the youth pheasant hunting season also open earlier, on Sept. 30 instead of Oct. 7.
In addition, out-of-state hunters are reminded that state law does not allow nonresidents to hunt on Game and Fish owned or managed lands during the first week of pheasant season. Therefore, Private Land Open to Sportsmen acreage and state wildlife management areas are open to hunting by resident hunters only from Oct. 7-13. Nonresidents, however, can still hunt those days on other state-owned and federal lands, or private land.
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Tentative 2017 Season Opening Dates
To help North Dakota hunters prepare for hunting seasons in 2017, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department annually provides its best estimate for opening dates for the coming year.
Dates become official when approved by governor’s proclamation. Tentative opening dates for 2017 include:
Spring Turkey - April 8
Deer and Pronghorn Bow, Dove, Mountain Lion - September 1
Sharptail, Hun, Ruffed Grouse, Squirrel - September 9
Youth Deer - September 15
Youth Waterfowl - September 16
Early Resident Waterfowl - September 23
Regular Waterfowl - September 30
Pronghorn Gun - October 6
Youth Pheasant - October 7
Pheasant, Fall Turkey - October 14
Mink, Muskrat, Weasel Trapping - October 28
Deer Gun - November 10
Deer Muzzleloader - December 1
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