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More ducks and less water await Utah's waterfowl hunters

SALT LAKE CITY A mixed bag awaits Utah's waterfowl hunters this season. On one hand, duck numbers should be up from last year. On the other hand, there may be fewer areas to hunt.

Utah's 20032004 waterfowl season begins at 8 a.m. on Oct. 4. The only change to Utah's seven-duck bag limit is that hunters will be allowed one canvasback in their daily bag this season. The entire season runs until Jan. 17, 2004, but canvasbacks and pintails may only be taken from Oct. 4 Dec. 2.

"Most of the ducks that migrate through Utah each fall are raised in southwestern Alberta. A wet spring there led to an incredible improvement in wetland conditions," said Tom Aldrich, waterfowl coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "The number of ponds available to nesting ducks more than doubled from the previous spring, and the number of breeding birds counted on the ponds was up 16 percent from last year and nine percent from the 35-year average."

Locally, the number of ducks produced in marshes along the Great Salt Lake was down because of the drought.

"All things considered, I think hunters will see duck numbers that will be similar to or improved from last year," Aldrich said.

Aldrich says most of the Canada geese Utah hunters hunt each fall are produced locally, and the number of breeding geese observed in Utah this spring was down seven percent from recent years. "There are still plenty of Canada geese in Utah, but many of them head to urban areas once the season starts," he said. "That can make it challenging for hunters to find them in places where they can be hunted."

Thousands of tundra swans will migrate through the state again this season, but they may not remain as long because of dry conditions at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and the Willard Spur.

For hunters deciding where to head on opening day, Aldrich says marsh conditions at state waterfowl management areas vary. "The drought has had a big impact on our spring-fed marshes," he said. "Locomotive Springs is basically dry and only three units are full at the Clear Lake WMA."

The news is better at some of the WMAs fed by rivers and canals. "Farmington Bay and Ogden Bay are almost at full-pool level and marsh conditions are very good," he said. "The Salt Creek and Public Shooting Grounds WMAs on the north end of the lake are pretty dry, however, and boat hunters should expect water levels that are lower than normal. Some rain between now and the start of the season could change that, though."

Aldrich says the Bear River Bird Refuge managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is only at about 10 percent of its water capacity, but conditions should improve later in the season. The Willard Spur area north of the refuge is also very dry. "Another dry area is the Layton/Kaysville marshes west of Layton and Kaysville," he said. "These are popular areas for airboat hunters but right now, only walk-in hunters can access them."

Aldrich says the dry conditions have reduced the number of ponds and flooded areas at the WMAs, which could crowd hunters around the available water. "To avoid the crowds, I would recommend avoiding busy times, such as opening day and weekends," he said. "The long 107-day season gives hunters plenty of time to plan days during the week when they can go out and enjoy less crowded conditions."

Aldrich reminds hunters to register in the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (HIP). He also encourages them to polish their decoys and repair their anchor lines, and to practice their calling and train their dogs. "Prepare yourself, do a little bit of scouting, have a measure of tolerance when you're out there and get ready to have a wonderful duck season in Utah this year," he said.




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