|Hunters will be greeted by fewer ducks and drier marsh conditions when Utah's 2001-2002 waterfowl season opens October 6, but there are some bright spots awaiting them too.
"Duck numbers will be down from last year but plenty of birds will still come through Utah and even with the dry weather, marsh conditions are actually pretty good at many of our waterfowl management areas," says Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources.
Aldrich says the number of ducks on state waterfowl management areas (WMAs) in August was about half of what biologists normally see. "I suspect this trend will hold through September and early October," he said.
The number of ducks counted isn't surprising considering the western Canadian prairies, where most of the ducks that migrate through Utah each fall come from, were very dry this spring. "The number of ponds counted on the western prairies was 23 percent below last year, and 42 percent below the long-term average," Aldrich said.
"Duck populations that come through Utah this year will be mostly adult birds, with very few young among them," Aldrich said. "They'll be more experienced birds and will be harder for hunters to bag."
While duck numbers will likely be down, Canada goose and tundra swan numbers should be similar to last year. Aldrich says most of the Canada geese taken by Utah's hunters are raised in the state, and that Canada goose production in Utah was average this spring.
Tundra swan populations have increased 300 percent since the 1960s, and good numbers of tundra swans should migrate through Utah this fall. "Dry conditions at the Bear River Bird Refuge and the Willard Spur, which are areas that are heavily used by swans, have resulted in poor food production," Aldrich said. "Because of that, swans might use different areas this year."
Despite the dry weather, overall marsh conditions are good at many of the state's WMAs. Ogden Bay, Farmington Bay and Harold Crane are among the WMAs with the best marsh conditions.
At the Howard Slough WMA, marsh conditions are fair.
On the north end of the Great Salt Lake, water levels at the Public Shooting Grounds and Salt Creek WMAs will be about 75 to 80 percent of normal for the October 6 season opener. Water levels will be much lower at the Locomotive Springs WMA.
At the Clear Lake WMA, Aldrich says the main marsh area should be full but the west marsh will probably be dry. "At the Desert Lake and Browns Park WMAs, water conditions will be adequate but not as good as we'd like," he said.
Flows in the Bear River have been very low this summer and Aldrich says conditions are dry at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, which is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "The water flow has been so low that they haven't been able to keep water in many of the units, and food production for waterfowl there is going to be very poor," he said. "The Willard Spur area below the Bear River Refuge is also dry. In a normal year, this area would hold large concentrations of waterfowl."
For the best success this season, Aldrich encourages hunters to try to hunt during storm fronts that stir birds up. Some preseason scouting is also a good idea. "Some areas are going to be very dry and it's important that hunters learn which ponds are holding water," he said.
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