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Waterfowl hunters need help from weather

As the waterfowl hunting seasons begin in Nevada, hunters can expect to see good bird numbers if the weather cooperates. Not record numbers but good ones.

Of course, cooperative weather conditions mean cold temperatures and overcast skies rather than the bluebird weather we have had during recent hunting seasons.

According to the 2018 Waterfowl Population Status report published by the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service, the estimated breeding duck population numbered about 41.2 million birds during the annual Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey. That survey is conducted each May and June by biologists from the FWS and Canadian Wildlife Service.

The survey area covers about 1.3 million square miles in Alaska, Canada and the north-central United States. Along with counting birds, the biologists assess the habitat and its ability to support waterfowl populations. Though the estimate of 41.2 million birds represents a drop of 13 percent from the 2017 figure of 47.3 million, the overall breeding duck population remains 17 percent higher than the long-term average.

Habitat conditions during the survey were similar to those observed in 2017, but there was a noticeable drop of 14 percent in the number of ponds in the Canadian Prairie and north-central U.S. As the number of ponds drops, it only makes sense that we will see a decline in bird numbers.

Another possible factor in the overall decline in duck numbers was temperature extremes. In February, March and April, temperatures in breeding areas were well below average. And right behind those came above temperatures in May.

“The dip in the population for prairie-breeding puddle ducks is not unexpected and by no means unprecedented given that conditions on the prairies this spring were drier than last year,” said Tom Moorman, chief scientist for Ducks Unlimited, on the organization’s website.

“As a result, 2018 populations dropped accordingly. However, populations of all key species except northern pintails and scaup remain above long-term averages. This year’s breeding population decline is a reminder of the need to sustain the capacity of breeding habitats, particularly in the prairies as we go through natural variation in wetland conditions. Waterfowl populations are adapted well to short-term swings in habitat conditions, but we must continue to guard against the long-term loss of prairie breeding habitat.”

Habitat is something DU knows about. Since its founding in 1937, the organization has conserved more than 14.1 million acres of waterfowl habitat in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

In Nevada, hunters can expect to see fewer numbers of ducks and other waterfowl on the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge. Low water conditions are expected to continue well into the fall.

Fire closure in the Rubies

Hunters traveling to Northern Nevada for opening day of deer season should be aware that another wildland fire is burning in Elko County, this time in Area 10.

Known as the Range 2 Fire, it has grown to almost 8,900 acres. The fire started in Spring Creek on Sunday and burned its way into the Ruby Mountains, particularly Lamoille Canyon. The U.S. Forest Service has issued a closure for the canyon.

Since Area 10 covers a large geographical area, the closure at Lamoille Canyon should have little impact on hunting activity if firefighters can quickly contain the fire.

Youth waterfowl hunt

Youth hunters wanting to participate in a waterfowl hunt Oct. 13 at the Overton Wildlife Management Area can make reservations starting Monday at the Nevada Department of Wildlife office in Las Vegas, 4747 Vegas Drive.

Hunting in Arizona

The Arizona Game Fish department is accepting applications for 2019 spring turkey, javelina, bison and bear hunts. Applications can be submitted at draw.azgfd.com. The deadline is Tuesday.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by NDOW. Any opinions are his own. Find him on Facebook at @dougwritesoutdoors. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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