Federal officials may lift hunting ban on canvasback ducks in several years


September 06, 1992|By PETER BAKER

For several years, the hunting season for canvasback ducks has been closed in all flyways except the Pacific, but Maryland waterfowl manager Larry Hindman said recently that a reopening of a canvasback season is being studied by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"They are in the process of establishing the criteria for initiating harvest on canvasbacks throughout the United States," Hindman said. "But they are not at the point where they are going to authorize anything (imminently)."

If the USFWS were to open hunting on canvasbacks within the next couple of years, it probably would be in the form of a strictly limited season -- 30 days at one canvasback a day, for example.

Maryland, however, likely would propose a different approach, Hindman said.

"We would advocate for a limited season, too," Hindman said. "But maybe it would be a six-day season with a more liberal bag limit."

Part of the reason the USFWS has been looking at the canvasbacks, which are considered one of the best if not the best tasting ducks, is that the continental breeding population is up over the last few years.

In the last three years the breeding population was 539,000 to 480,000 breeding pairs after more than five years at 450,000 or less. The breeding population this year was up 11 percent over last year.

The USFWS and state waterfowl managers also are looking at whether there really are eastern and western populations of canvasbacks.

"Recent information suggests that there really isn't," Hindman said, "that, in fact, in some years birds will go west and not come east."

If that cyclical pattern is correct, then it could explain the relatively small number of canvasbacks in the Chesapeake area.

"There is still concern in this [Atlantic] flyway that there is still a component of birds that have that tradition of coming to the Chesapeake and other areas of the East Coast," Hindman said. "And I know a number of the states are reluctant to jump into a canvasback season.

"Here on the bay, they just seem to be hanging on."

As with most species of ducks, the canvasback population has declined as good breeding habitats disappeared through the Dakotas and north through the prairie provinces of Canada.

Canvasbacks nest in marshes, building nests over shallow water. Several years of drought and draining of wetlands for agricultural use have greatly reduced the available nesting habitat.

But Hindman said that the wintering habitat in the Middle Atlantic states also has been reduced and along with it the underwater roots and tubers.

"I think a lot of [the decline] has to do with breeding habitat conditions," Hindman said, "but it also has to do with wintering habitat conditions Here and a lack of quality foods."

While canvasbacks are on the bubble, so to speak, Maryland's wood ducks, which benefit from state and volunteer programs that build nesting boxes for them, are holding their own.

"They did about average this year," Hindman said when asked about the state's nest box surveys in three parts of the state. "But we did notice maybe a little bit more predation in one particular area of Dorchester County."

Hindman said the increased predation can be blamed on the raccoon, which is adept at raiding nest boxes.

On a related matter, if you are wondering about the conflict between the second split of Canada goose season (proposed for Dec. 4-11) and the first week of firearms season for deer (Nov. 28-Dec. 5), Maryland has asked the USFWS to allow it to extend the goose season for two days in January. The extension, which DNR expects will be approved, would clear the first week of deer firearms season.

The concern, of course, is that waterfowlers are not required to wear hunter orange and might be mistaken for deer by other hunters.

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