Signs point towards stiffer waterfowl regs next year

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Stiffer duck regulations likely
By Charlie Meyers
Denver Post Outdoors Editor

Colorado waterfowl enthusiasts have dodged a metaphorical bullet for the upcoming season. Whether they can keep ducking, pun intended, in the years ahead remains to be seen.

Despite widespread population declines recorded in recent nesting surveys, the Service Regulations Committee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday elected to keep the Central and Pacific flyways under a liberal hunt package.

Although statistics show seven of 10 primary duck species declined during the past year, seasons and bag limits remain virtually identical to 2003. But unless water and nesting conditions improve dramatically in the prairie region of the northern United States and southern Canada, don't expect this to continue.

"There's almost a guarantee that there'll be substantive changes in duck regulations next year," said Jim Gammonley, Colorado's primary waterfowl biologist and a representative to the Central Flyway Technical Committee.

Gammonley reports grave rumblings in the flyway councils and among USFWS officials about weather-related population trends. Since they can't control the weather, reducing hunting pressure - particularly on certain stressed species - remains the only tool to reverse the slide.

Gammonley points out that Colorado has been operating under the liberal package for a full decade, allowing six ducks in a daily bag, including five mallards.

By far the most targeted species, mallards form the basis for determining the overall regulation package. Mallard numbers declined 7 percent from 2003 and stand at 9 percent below the North American Waterfowl Management Plan objective - not enough for alarm but sufficient to put on the brakes if the trend continues.

Bottom line: Unless breeding conditions improve, and fast, expect a significant decrease in season length and bag limits in 2005.

The greatest concern, Gammonley said, is while mallards presently can withstand the current level of hunting pressure, other species cannot.

Consequently, we may see some adjustments similar to the present limitation on pintail and canvasback, whereby these species may be hunted only 39 days in the Central Flyway, 60 in the Pacific. Some future reduction in total hunting days also is likely.

Popular species such as widgeon and blue-winged teal showed a 22 percent and 26 percent decrease respectively. Widgeon, which represents a large part of the Colorado bag, stand 33 percent below long-term objective; blue-winged teal are 12 percent below objective.

Thursday's decision means the season structure approved in July by the Colorado Wildlife Commission generally remains intact. The policy body will formalize the dates at its Thursday meeting in Craig, with one possible adjustment. Some hunters have requested an arrangement so the proposed two-week lag between the second and third season splits can be reduced to one week.

The dates include a nine-day teal season, Sept. 4-12, in the area east of Interstate 25 and in Lake and Chaffee counties, along with a special youth hunt Sept. 25-26.


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(this is a pain in the ass to read, but I couldn't get it to come out better)
2004 breeding ducks

By species (in millions)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Percent Percent
Species 2003 2004 change change*

Mallard 7.950 7.425 -7 -9

Gadwall 2.549 2.590 +2 +70

Widgeon 2.551 1.981 -22 -33

Gr.W. Teal 2.678 2.461 -8 +34

Bl. W. Teal 5.518 4.073 -26 -12

Shoveler 3.620 2.810 -22 +42

Pintail 2.558 2.185 -15 -61

Redhead .637 .605 -5 -5

Canvasback .558 .617 +11 +15

Scaup 3.734 3.807 +2 -39

*Change from NAWMP goals
 

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