Joe Balog was born and raised on the Great Lakes, where he's earned a living as a charter boat captain, pro bass fisherman and outdoor communicator. As waterfowl editor for Realtree.com, Balog was bitten by the duck bug while hunting the world famous St. Clair Flats. Between duck hunting, fishing, and dog training, Balog spends some 300 days a year on the water.
Record Duck Numbers and Future Fears
The reports are out: estimates for the total population of breeding waterfowl in the US are at record highs. Never before, since surveys began in 1955, has the US Fish and Wildlife Service seen so many ducks.
But there's good news and bad news. You already read the good news. In the video above with Ducks Unlimited Chief Scientist Dale Humburg, we’re educated on the cautionary “bad news." Although we have record numbers as of today, we have also recently experienced alarming rates of habitat loss. Spring pond conditions for 2012 were not good. In the Dakotas, there’s been nearly a 50 percent decline of May ponds, where ducks breed, compared to 2011. It may seem contradictory, but a good portion of the ducks biologists are counting now, giving us the record numbers, were produced last year, under the great spring conditions of 2011. Who knows what next year may bring.
Another thing to remember is that these “record” numbers represent the data collected since 1955. To have record numbers compared to the last 60 years or so is a good accomplishment, but that's still a relatively short amount of time. It’s not as if we’ve turned the US into the waterfowl Garden of Eden. We still face incredible challenges, specifically for waterfowl, as the amount of land used for agriculture continues to increase, as does urban sprawl.
In any case, we’re going to see a lot of ducks this fall. But who knows what the future may bring? If we continue to lose vital breeding habitat, as we are now, this will certainly be the peak in the duck count curve. We can’t just look at these record numbers and think everything is wonderful. Remember last year how it rained every day in the spring? We owe these ducks to that. And that’s not going to happen again anytime soon, I wouldn’t think.
I wouldn't mind seeing a decrease in the limit now, because I'm afraid of what's on the horizon. That’s right; get record numbers of ducks out there and decrease the limits of what hunters can take. In order to plan for future duck numbers to remain high, it seems it would be best to reduce the harvest when numbers are highest, therefore leaving the greatest possible numbers around to breed when conditions are less than ideal. Ever fished in a lake that’s catch and release only, or has a strict “slot limit”? That’s what I’m talking about to some extent. Decrease harvest now to maintain those high future numbers.
I’m not sure ducks work this way. Habitat, especially breeding habitat, is far more of a limiting factor in duck populations than hunting pressure. But in the event we can do just a little something to increase those long-term numbers, I'm all in.