so what happens with fall duck hunting season

Bob Marshall tells us about it

How the BP oil spill will affect water fowl hunting in Louisiana
Published: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 1:48 PM Updated: Wednesday, July 14, 2010, 1:53 PM
Bob Marshall, The Times-Picayune

A few thoughts to keep in mind before we discuss what BP’s oil disaster will mean to waterfowl season:

Bob Marshall/The Times-Picayune
How will the BP oil spill affect duck hunting? Check out the Q&A.
Take a deep breath and relax. Do not drink that second cup of coffee.

I make those suggestions because there’s a lot of panic going on right now among Louisiana’s coastal waterfowlers.

It’s not just the threat BP’s oil poses to the marshes and deltas that are the wintering habitat for ducks and geese. It’s also plans some federal agencies have to slow the migration to those endangered habitats.

Maybe the best way to explore these worries is with some basic Q and A.

How does oil threaten waterfowl?

Ducks, like all birds, face two main threats from oil — poison and hypothermia.

Oiled feathers reduce flight potential but also lose their ability to protect a bird from cold and heat. Birds that become heavily oiled during the colder winter months will certainly die, said Larry Reynolds, waterfowl study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

But birds understand that threat, which is why they are meticulous about keeping clean. When a feather gets oiled, a bird will immediately try to clean itself, a process called preening, using its bill and tongue to remove the oil. And that leads to another threat: The bird can ingest toxins resulting in damage to internal organs and death.

The threat from preening small amounts of oil depends on how long the oil has been in the water. Fresh oil is packed with volatile organic compounds that can mean certain death. Oil weathered in the Gulf for weeks or months is less of a threat because the toxins have dispersed into the atmosphere.

Which species face the greatest threat?

Ducks are divided in two major categories.

Divers swim in deeper lakes, bays and coastal waters, and include species such as scaup (dos gris), redheads and canvasbacks.
Dabblers or “puddle ducks” which spend their time in the shallow interior marshes and include species like teal, gadwall (grays), widgeon, pintail and mallard.

Divers face the gravest threat for obvious reasons: By the time they arrive in the fall, more than 300 million gallons of oil will have spewed into the Gulf. Divers will be swimming in water where oil could be on the surface, or diving in areas where oil might be suspended in the water column.

It’s hard to judge what the threat will be to puddle ducks, which are most of the ducks that winter in our area. Currently, little oil has reached interior marshes, where these species will be looking for food and roosting sites. But there is oil along the shorelines of bays on the southern end of the estuaries, and more is expected to come ashore. Puddle ducks foraging in these areas could become oiled.

There is also the fear that tropical storm surges could push waves of oil into interior marshes. If that happens, the risk increases for puddle ducks, but how serious that threat would be no one can say for sure. Will the ducks stay in oiled areas looking for food, or will they visit briefly, then leave? Will each successive migration caused by cold fronts expose new birds to being oiled?

“I do believe they will move, that they won’t hang around in damaged areas, ” said Reynolds. “But I also believe that just sampling (for forage) in the damage areas will cause some problems. “We will lose birds, but no one can say how many.”

Are the feds planning to short-stop birds to keep them from the oiled areas?

Yes — but it won’t be as bad as that sounds.

Two things are going on here.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (part of the Dept. of Agriculture), working with Ducks Unlimited, has $20 million to pay landowners in eight states to flood fields in the hope they can prevent some birds from ending up in oiled coastal marshes, or at least slow their arrival here.

That program is being coordinated with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has regulatory responsibility for migratory waterfowl. The Service is looking at its own program — an effort to expand waterfowl feeding areas on some of its refuges and close others north of the coast to hunting.

Although this has been billed in some areas as an attempt to change the migration, few waterfowl biologists — in government or at private groups — think it will come near that mark. At best they’re hoping to keep some of the 13 million waterfowl that pass through our coastal areas each year from getting oiled.

“We think we can make a difference in localized areas, ” said Paul Schmidt, USFWS assistant director for migratory birds. In fact, while some southern hunters were up in arms about “short-stopping” the migration, Schmidt was more concerned about disappointing hopes that many ducks could be kept from the coast.
“Frankly, weather and (daylight periods) is what moves most ducks, and there’s nothing we can do to control that. We don’t want to get people’s hopes up, but at the same time we can’t just sit back and not do anything, because the potential (for harm) is there.” Reynolds also is not concerned the projects will stop large numbers of ducks from reaching south Louisiana.

“Most of these projects will be within 50 to 100 miles of the coast, ” he said. “DU has drawn a line from Texas to Alabama which it will not work above. So, while some of this might stop some birds short of the coast, they’ll still be in south Louisiana.”

What about the projects that are planned for further up the flyway — in Mississippi’s delta country and even southern Missouri?

No one is really sure — but the science shows it probably won’t work. Besides, the Service is legally charged with protecting migratory birds from unregulated dangers. Schmidt worries about this worst case scenario: a tropical storm season that floods interior marshes with oil, followed by an early and hard winter up north that drives bird toward those marshes.

Is there a chance hunting season could be reduced or cancelled if the oil gets bad?

Yes, the Service and the state has that authority. But in all likelihood, the oil will have a self-regulating impact on hunters’ effort: Who will want to take boats, gear and dogs into an oiled marsh — and oiled birds won’t be flying.

What should hunters be doing now?

Don’t panic. Keep careful watch of what is happening in the Gulf and along the coast, pray that BP finally stops its disaster, and that the hurricane season turns out to be lame.

Get ready to hunt, but be prepared to look for blinds in other areas of the state and region.


~ by maringouin on Wednesday, July 14, 2010.

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