Maine duck hunters now have evidence that supports their suspicion that climate change has impacted their hunting experiences in Maine – and more evidence to support changes in the duck hunting zones and seasons that put hunters on the water when the ducks are there.
While gunning used to be fast and furious in early October, migratory ducks now aren’t even getting to Maine until December. And by the time they get to southern states, duck season is over.
“The ole duck slayers in the (southern) bayous are really crying the last ten years or so,” Brad Allen told me. Brad is the very capable Bird Group leader for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “Late migrations (after seasons close) and birds stopping in states to their north,” are now common complaints.
Because ducks are migratory, the federal government establishes the parameters for the states to use when setting their duck seasons. Once again Allen will be asking federal officials to allow Maine to create a third coastal hunting zone, “something we’ve been trying for 20 years but actually might happen this year,” he told me.
“If it does it will allow us to have even more late season gunning along the coast – into January – that regular duck hunters have not had in many decades,” said Allen. “It would be nice to have the flexibility to establish seasons that Maine hunters really want!”
Driving the debate is a recently release Delta Waterfowl study that examined duck harvest data collected from hunters since 1961 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“With few exceptions, harvest dates for mallards throughout the mid-latitude and southern states have become consistently later,” said Dr. Frank Rohwer, science director for the Bipartisan Policy Center that commissioned the study.
“Mallard harvest is on average ten days later in Arkansas, fifteen days later in California, sixteen days later in Illinois, and twelve days later in Virginia,” reported Rohwer.
A press release from the National Wildlife Federation noted that, “the study found that most migrant duck species have significantly later harvest dates.”
“Hunters have suspected this was happening, and for the first time, we’ve seen the data that confirms this on a big scale. As usual, hunters seem to know more than we give them credit for,” said Rohwer.
The hunting community has been debating the reasons for the delay in duck migrations, with some blaming northern agricultural practices and others pointing their fingers at climate change. The Delta Study reported that northern agricultural practices are “unlikely” to be the cause of later migrations, and that it is “plausible” that climate change is the key factor, while noting that the harvest data “can neither prove nor disprove the connection between migration and climate change.”
After examining the Delta Study, Brad Allen said it “makes sense to me.” The study certainly adds ammunition for Allen’s request for a new zone and the chance to schedule later duck hunting seasons in Maine.
And while we’re talking ducks, here’s a recent report on Eiders from Brad Allen.
“Wildlife disease management is an on-going challenge for wildlife biologists,” he writes. “These past two weeks (I have) coordinated field collections of blood samples from over 300 healthy common eiders and 100 of their eggs to aid researchers to further understand the possible routes of transmission of a new bird virus. In addition, the researchers are attempting to learn if Maine’s resident eider population is carrying antibodies to the disease.
“This virus, a previously undescribed orthomyxovirus, is called the Wellfleet Bay Virus because
between the years 2006 and 2011, several common eider mortality events involving from 30
- 2,800 birds were observed along the coast of Massachusetts near Cape Cod, particularly
Wellfleet Bay. The death toll from this virus may now be in excess of 6,000 eiders.
“Meanwhile, the USGS National Wildlife Health Center and the Southeastern Cooperative
Wildlife Disease Study have been collaborating with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife by providing diagnostic support and
conducting experimental inoculation trials in captive eiders in order to further characterize this
disease and help conserve eider ducks in the long-term.”
The bottom line: things are not ducky – in Maine or anywhere else.