Dakotas duck hunters seeing positive trends in conditions

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — After weathering poor wetland conditions in North Dakota and South Dakota over the last few years, duck hunters in the two states known for abundant waterfowl are seeing positive trends, wildlife officials said Thursday.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department released its annual fall survey which shows that duck hunting wetlands have increased about 65% statewide from a year ago. Andy Dinges, the agency’s migratory bird biologist, cites record fall wetland conditions in the south central and southeastern parts of the state, where the marshes, swamps and ponds grew by about 300%.

Dinges said wetland conditions had been declining for a few years, but adequate snowmelt and abundant rainfall throughout the spring and summer have dramatically improved the outlook.

“However, the north central and northeast regions of the state are still recovering from drought conditions experienced over the last few years,” said Dinges, noting that wetlands in those regions remain slightly below average.

Bruce Toay, manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited in South Dakota, said “it’s shaping up to be a pretty good fall” for duck hunters in that state. He said the majority of the wetlands are at above capacity, especially in the southeastern part of the state which has seen torrential rainfall in the last month.

“From a duck standpoint you certainly want to have water on the landscape,” Toay said. “Of course you don’t want to see the levels of near-destruction with the flooding we’ve had. There’s some give and take there.”

Eastern North Dakota and South Dakota saw increases in both ponds and breeding waterfowl, according to Tom Moorman, chief scientist for Ducks Unlimited, which is a nonprofit group dedicated to conserving habitat. In addition, conditions are dry in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and that typically drives some species into the Dakotas, he said.

Numbers are especially good for mallards, blue-winged teal, gadwalls, northern shovelers and northern pintail, Moorman said. Ultimately, he said, hunting success and numbers of birds will vary with the arrival of winter conditions that force birds to migrate south from Canada.

The regular duck hunting season opens Saturday in North Dakota. In South Dakota, it opens on Sept. 28 in some areas and Oct. 12 in others.

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