It could be an excellent fall and winter for Montana waterfowl hunters.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its report on breeding ducks and wetland conditions from the annual spring survey. This year, the population of 10 primary species of ducks in the traditional survey areas was 48.6 million, up seven percent compared to last year, which was a record year. This year’s number is 43 percent above the long-term average that stretches back to 1955.
"The exceptionally wet year in 2011 and that year’s good production resulted in strong returning duck populations," said Jim Hansen, the Central Flyway coordinator for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Billings. "Although many areas have had very hot, dry weather in 2012, late spring precipitation in parts of Prairie Canada have improved prospects for 2012 duck production."
Among the duck's important to Montana, mallards, the most sought-after species in the state, surpassed 10 million for the first time since 1999. The mallard breeding population was up 15 percent from last year and is 40 percent above the long-term average.
Blue-winged teal showed record numbers at 9.2 million and northern shovelers also charted a new record count at 5 million. The gadwall population count was up 10 percent from last year and was 96 percent above the long-term average, while wigeon numbers were similar to 2011, and still about 17 percent below the long-term average. Scaup numbers, however, improved and were above 5 million for the first time since 1991. Numbers of pintails dropped 22 percent compared to last year.
Canada goose numbers for Montana hunters are likely to be similar to last year, Hansen said.
On the habitat front, overall the count of 5.5 million ponds in Prairie Canada and the U.S. was 32 percent below last year's estimate and 9 percent above the long term average, marking the first time since 2008 that ponds dropped below 6 million.
Hansen surmised that the loss of wetlands and nesting cover will affect duck populations over the next few years. With more Conservation Reserve Program contracts expiring there will be less nesting cover, and high commodity prices tend to push conversion of grasslands to cropland.
"The fall flight of ducks looks promising, but hunting success, as always, will be influenced by the weather and by local habitat conditions," Hansen said.
The framework for federal waterfowl regulations are established in August. Montana’s proposed waterfowl regulations will be presented to the FWP Commission on Aug. 2, with final regulations adopted Aug. 31 via conference call.
For online information on the federal duck and wetland report, visit flyways.us.