Hunting

Canada Goose Surveys and Neck Collar Observations

For a number of suggested reasons the Canada goose population that historically wintered in Louisiana decreased rapidly through the 1950's and steadily declined through the 1970's with only 2,000 estimated in the early 1970's. This phenomenon was frequently referred to as short stopping. Canada goose numbers began to increase in the 1980's and in more recent years peak counts of 20,000 have been documented. While this increase of Canada geese is encouraging, it is still well behind the number of white-fronted (150,000) and snow geese (1 million) that winter in Louisiana. The small-sized Hutchinson's Canada goose, which is now the most common Canada goose wintering in Louisiana, has a longer migration flight than any other race of Canada goose and is more susceptible to annual mortality factors such as hunting and disease. In Louisiana these Canada geese intermingle with the more common white-fronted geese requiring LDWF to monitor these geese with ground counts. Additionally, to more precisely identify migration and wintering areas and to estimate survival rates, intensive neck collar markings of snow, white-fronted and Canada geese has occurred in recent years on Arctic breeding sites.

Monitoring for neck collars has been conducted during the Canada goose surveys but primarily with assistance from local university students hired by Waterfowl Program personnel. These color and alpha/numeric-coded neck collars have been placed on snow, white-fronted and Canada geese across the wide nesting range these birds use in the arctic. Standard leg bands are also attached to each goose that receives a neck collar. Neck collar observations have allowed us to clearly identify specific breeding sites and migration patterns of all species of geese that winter in Louisiana over a relatively short time frame. Additional estimates of survival rates and annual mortality have been provided by the neck collar program and this information is used in management planning and in setting hunting seasons for these geese. Waterfowl Program personnel prepare technical and popular papers for publication on the results of these activities.

Research Projects

The importance of continued research in waterfowl ecology and management cannot be overstated. Our waterfowl resources are highly dynamic, with populations changing from year to year in response primarily to changing hydrology and land-use which affect habitat quality in both breeding and wintering areas. They are also highly mobile, and consequently, their distribution may change within a season related to weather, managed flooding, or hunting pressure. There are always questions needing answers to help us best use our time, effort, and money to most benefit waterfowl and maximize the benefits they provide to our sportsmen and wildlife enthusiasts.

The Waterfowl Program typically supports research projects as a partner in a multi-organizational effort. By providing financial support, vehicles, aircraft, personnel, lodging, or equipment, Program personnel assist with finding answers to questions that often help us better manage our waterfowl resources. Research projects also offer opportunities to train and assess young biologists who will provide their knowledge, skills, and unique views to our future waterfowl management.

Some recent/current research projects:

Process for Setting Waterfowl Hunting Regulations

By Mike Olinde, Research Program Manager and Dr. E. Jane Luzar, LSU Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness

There has always been a great interest in duck hunting in Louisiana because of their abundant numbers in the state during the winter. However, with increased communication between hunters, between hunters and wildlife managers, and the use of mass communication, like internet websites and waterfowl forums, the interest in the processes by which ducks are managed and harvest regulations are determined has been heightened. Have you ever wondered how or what is the process for setting waterfowl regulations?

One of the first things you should know is that neither the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission nor the Department have the authority to determine the bag limit, season length or dates for waterfowl, better known as the Framework waterfowl hunting regulations. This authority lies with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) because of the migratory nature of the birds. The Service receives extremely broad guidance on how to manage this international resource through the Migratory Bird Treaty that includes the United States and the countries of Canada, Mexico, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Some of these agreements date to 1916. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 actually empowered the federal government to annually develop waterfowl hunting regulations. Our Commission can only select days, bag limit and dates within the framework of options permitted by the Service. This contrasts sharply with the Commission's total authority for the establishment of resident game seasons and bags.

The Service uses a number of surveys to annually monitor the size and distribution of waterfowl populations. These include May Breeding Population Surveys, May Pond Counts, Production Surveys, Migration/Mid-Winter Population Surveys, Harvest and Parts (Wings and Tails) Surveys and an extensive Leg-Banding Program. Some of these surveys date to the mid-1930's, and some of their most recent surveys are reported at: http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/reports.html.The most comprehensive data collection efforts began in 1955 with the initiation of the May Breeding Population Survey. This survey covers some 1.3 million square miles with transects flown throughout most of the duck breeding habitat in the northern United States and much of Canada to count breeding pairs of 10 species of ducks. A sample of these aerial surveys is then checked on the ground to insure accuracy of the aerial data. Information from these collective surveys is considered each year when hunting regulations are established. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries contributes annually to the Service survey process by conducting mid-winter aerial surveys in Louisiana and sending biologists to the annual Parts Survey (Wing Bee) and to Canada to assist in duck and goose banding.

National Regulatory Process

The states participate in the Service regulatory process through the Flyway Council system. There are 4 Flyways nationwide and Louisiana is in the Mississippi Flyway, which includes the 14 states roughly west of the Appalachian Mountain Range, and east of Texas. Each state and Canadian province has 1 member on the Council. This system was developed in the early 1950's as an administrative system to coordinate waterfowl hunting regulations and other conservation issues. A state's Flyway Council member is usually a high level administrative biologist of the state wildlife agency or its Director. A Flyway Technical committee, composed of waterfowl biologists, serves as consultants to each Council as they deliberate various waterfowl issues. Finally, the Service has a Service Regulations Committee (SRC), which is composed of 6 high level administrators, that listens to input from their staff, a Council representative, conservation organizations and private individuals. The SCR then makes its recommendation to the Director of the Service and the Secretary of the Interior who ultimately establish the regulation framework. As one might expect, this process has an extended timeline. The process begins in February and continues through early August when proposals by the Service are finally published and provided to the states and general public for comments or action

So what do biologists use to develop their recommendations at the Flyway level? Historically, the various surveys were used as general guides for recommendations. Today, a slightly different tool is used - in addition to the surveys.The management system known as "Adaptive Harvest Management" that was developed for use in the waterfowl regulation setting process. The Mallard Breeding Population and May Pond Counts on the breeding grounds are 2 factors that drive the Adaptive Harvest model used by the Service as a tool to determine the number of days of duck hunting and daily bag to allow. Under the system, there are currently 3 options: Restrictive, Moderate and Liberal. Depending on the option the model predicts, the season length can range from as few as 30 days to as many as 60 while the bag limit is either 3 or 6 ducks with varying restrictions on total mallards and hen mallards.

 

Option Season Length Daily Bag Limit (total/mallards/hen mallards Latest Hunt Date
Restrictive 30 days (3/2/1) Sunday nearest Jan. 20
Moderate 45 days (6/4/1) Last Sunday in January
Liberal 60 days (6/4/1) Last Sunday in Januar

 

State Regulatory Process

At the state level, once the Service has established the season length and bag limit frameworks, the Department makes hunting season dates and bag recommendations to our Commission. For the general waterfowl season, this is done at the August Commission meeting. The Department's biological staff uses a number of factors in developing its recommendation including historical duck migration patterns as determined by aerial surveys conducted by Wildlife Division personnel, historical marsh and weather conditions, and public input.

The waterfowl hunting season dates have traditionally opened in the West Zone of the state the first weekend in November when 55 days of hunting were allowed during the mid-1970's and early 1980's. This time was selected for a combination of reasons including (1) duck numbers, (2) water level conditions in the marshes and (3) traditional harvest area. Our waterfowl surveys have shown that large numbers ducks are in the coastal marshes during November, particularly blue-winged teal, green-winged teal, gadwall, wigeon, northern shoveler and northern pintail. Water level is generally lower in our coastal marshes during November as compared to December and January. As a result, duck feeding (and hunting) conditions are also generally better at this time for most coastal marshes.

Flooded agricultural lands such as rice and soybeans and bottomland hardwood forest are also important to ducks and duck hunters, but not as important as our coastal marshes. Size and availability of water certainly plays a role in determining this relative importance. For example, our coastal marshes cover some 4 million acres. In contrast, rice production generally occurs on about 600,000 acres in Louisiana of which about one-third is second cropped. Coastal marshes in southwest Louisiana provide vast areas of waterfowl habitat and account for the majority of the dabbling duck harvest in the state. As a result, coastal marshes are also extremely important to Louisiana waterfowling and its associated economics. For example, Cameron Parish, which includes almost 1 million acres of marshland, generally accounts for about 60-80% of the regional harvest and 30-50% of the statewide harvest of these ducks.

The tasks of recommending and establishing seasons are often difficult for the Department and the Commission. When it comes to the duck season for the West Zone, the dilemma is that marsh hunting is generally better in earlier November before the rains raise the water levels in the marsh. However, hunting is better in the rice country and other agricultural areas in late November and December after the rains flood the fields and marsh conditions have deteriorated. We attempt to accommodate (which often means develop compromises) sociological and demographic concerns when biology is not the primary issue. To this end, responding to input from the public, the opening date in the West Zone was moved to the second weekend in November and the second split closed later in January a few years ago. The East Zone season dates are usually later and run until the end of the framework.

Public Opinion

An integral part of the process for setting waterfowl hunting regulations is providing opportunity for public input. Public comment periods are specified in the Federal Register to gather public opinion information prior to setting the Framework regulations. Similarly, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and the Department make regular press releases and offer time at Commission meetings to accept and record statements of public opinion. Prior to the 2005 season-setting process, the Department solicited public comment via this internet site to make it easier for hunters or other wildlife constituents to comment on proposed alternative waterfowl hunting regulations.

In a continuing effort to understand the desires of our hunters, the Department conducts periodic special surveys. In the spring of 2005, the Department, cooperating with the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources conducted a mail survey of state duck stamp buyers. Over 6,000 waterfowl hunters were asked to share their opinions about recent waterfowl hunting quality in Louisiana and possible changes in the waterfowl hunting seasons structure and indicate their preferences for alternative management strategies. In addition, hunters were asked to provide information on their duck hunting characteristics. Preliminary results of this survey were presented to the Commission in November, 2005 and can be seen in the Research section.

As you can see, the waterfowl regulation setting process is quite involved. The Department listens and responds to constituent concerns. It is actively pursuing avenues and information that allow development of seasons which accommodate the hunting public's highly varied desires as much as possible.

Mississippi Flyway Council

The two waterfowl biologists in LDWF's Wildlife Division are active members of the Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Section (MFCTS). The MFCTS consists of biologists from 14 states, roughly aligned between the Mississippi River drainage and the Appalachian Mountains, and the 3 Canadian provinces that make up the Mississippi Flyway. Along with biologists from federal agencies from the U.S. and Canada plus private conservation groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the MFCTS is the science and technology arm of the Mississippi Flyway Council. Their role is to gather scientific data to provide the biological foundation to be strongly considered in waterfowl-management decisions made by members of the Council, who are usually high-ranking employees of participating agencies and organizations. No doubt, the most anticipated actions the Flyway Council takes is the setting of waterfowl hunting regulations.

Unlike for resident game animals, annual migratory waterfowl hunting regulations must be coordinated through this multi-agency international organization adding complexity to the season setting process. Hunting regulations can vary annually based largely on wetland habitat conditions in northern breeding sites and the success of nesting efforts. The Technical Section analyzes the status of waterfowl and recommends annual hunting regulations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Once hunting season packages are approved by the USFWS, Waterfowl Program biologists present Department recommendations to the Commission, hunting club groups and the media.

In addition to hunting regulations, the Section also coordinates and participates in flyway wide cooperative migratory waterfowl/wetlands research and management efforts. The goose neck collar program previously mentioned is an example of such a flyway project. The Waterfowl Program is responsible for preparing technical reports and publications on MFCTS activities and chairs several sub-committees within the MFCTS. Through the association with the MFCTS, one of the Program's biologists has been the Flyway's Representative on the Arctic Goose Joint Venture. This group consists of one representative from each of the 4 Flyways, federal U.S. and Canadians employees and provincial biologists. This Joint Venture primarily recommends and prioritizes goose research projects and coordination efforts associated with the current snow goose over- population crisis.

North American Waterfowl Management Plan

Waterfowl Program biologists coordinate all aspects of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) for LDWF. This international wetlands/waterfowl restoration plan uses partnerships with other government agencies, private landowners, and corporations to generate non-department funding sources to restore, protect, purchase and enhance wetland habitat on public and private lands in Louisiana and nationwide. Some of the activities under the NAWMP include the following:

Ducks Unlimited's MARSH and Duck Stamp Programs

Program personnel coordinate Ducks Unlimited's MARSH (Matching Aid to Restore State Habitat) program. This reimbursement program provides annual funding for development and restoration of wetland habitat on LDWF wildlife management areas (WMAs) and refuges. From 1985 to 2002, more than $1.5 million in grants were expended from the MARSH account on 18 WMAs and refuges. Ducks Unlimited assists with Louisiana's Duck Stamp Program which generates $500,000 annually for wetlands work and acquisition within the state. They also develop wetland project proposals in conjunction with regional LDWF and Ducks Unlimited biologists and engineers.

Wetlands Reserve Program and Louisiana Waterfowl Project

A waterfowl biologist serves as LDWF's representative on the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) Technical Subcommittee. The WRP is a feature of the 1995 Farm Bill. It was initially geared toward reforestation of previously cleared and farmed wetlands. Today, restoration of hydrology is an extremely important aspect of the program. Over 200,000 acres in Louisiana have been scheduled for reforestation to bottomland hardwoods and/or hydrology restored to date. View the WRP sites as of April 2003. LDWF's regional biologists developed projects on two WMAs that resulted in LDWF receiving more than $500,000 through the WRP during the past three years. The WRP Subcommittee is responsible for developing habitat criteria and ranking criteria for proposals in Louisiana.

The Louisiana Waterfowl Project is conducted in cooperation with Ducks Unlimited, the NRCS, oil and pipeline companies and private landowners. Water control structures are designed from used gas pipelines. Technical assistance and wetland management plans are provided to the private sector to create seasonal wetlands that benefit a wide range of wildlife. Currently, 35,000 acres of wetlands are enrolled in 10 to 15 year agreements in 20 parishes under this program. As a result of observed benefits, other local landowners in some areas are developing their own projects. A waterfowl biologist also represents LDWF on the Louisiana Waterfowl Project Committee.

North American Wetlands Conservation Act

Program personnel develop and evaluate grant applications to this federal program to obtain grant funds to be used for wetlands acquisition and development projects on public lands. North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grants require at least one dollar in non-federal matching funds for each dollar of grant funds requested. This is a major mechanism for generating conservation partnerships vital to the success of the NAWMP. In recent years, LDWF has partnered with NAWCA, Ducks Unlimited, NRCS, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Monsanto Corporation, Exxon, local conservation organizations, the Walker Foundation, White Lake Foundation, and Richard King Mellon Foundation to acquire wetland habitats of value to waterfowl and other wetland birds as well as implement projects on six WMAs.

Louisiana has two active joint ventures of the NAWMP: the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture (LMV) and the Gulf Coast Joint Venture (GC). Each joint venture has different goals and habitat issues that are addressed by NAWCA projects. Most of these restoration projects in the LMV involve a combination of reforestation to bottomland hardwoods and water control capabilities that permit precise water level management for wintering waterfowl. Once projects are completed specific management plans are developed to maintain wetland management units at maximum production. Program personnel work extensively with regional LDWF biologists and specialists in implementing and evaluating wetland management practices on WMAs. The GC, on the other hand, is dominated by coastal marshes, prairies, and agricultural land, so projects focus on reducing salinity or wave energy to enhance submerged aquatic vegetation, re-establishing water-control to manage marshes for better production of seed-producing annuals, or creating capabilities to flood/manage agricultural areas for making winter food available for waterfowl.

L.D.W.F. Accepting Applications for Wildlife Area Management Lottery Hunts

Release Date: 08/16/2010

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is accepting applications for lottery hunts to be held on several Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) this upcoming hunting season. 

LDWF is sponsoring the hunts to provide a quality outdoor experience for the various hunters.  Youth, physically challenged, physically challenged wheelchair confined and general lottery hunts will be conducted.  For the second consecutive year a youth lottery squirrel hunt will be conducted on Floy W. McElroy WMA. 

Successful participants in the hunts will be selected by a randomized computer drawing.  Applications for the lottery must be submitted to LDWF before close of business on the date listed on the application.  Rules and regulations pertaining to the hunts are also included on the application. A $5 administrative fee will be charged to each applicant.
Applications and more information may be obtained by contacting your local LDWF office or by visiting the LDWF Web site at http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/lottery-hunts.

Completed applications may be delivered in person to Room 445 of the LDWF Headquarters Building located at 2000 Quail Dr. in Baton Rouge or by mail.  The mailing address is: Wildlife Division WMA Lotteries, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, P.O. Box 98000, Baton Rouge, LA 70898 to the attention of the lottery application title.  For more information, contact Randy Myers at 225-765-2359.

For more information, contact Randy Myers at rmyers@wlf.la.gov or 225-765-2359.

2010- 245

Aerial Waterfowl Surveys

Louisiana's vast coastal marsh provides wintering and migration habitat for two-thirds of the Mississippi Flyway waterfowl population and leads the country in the number of wintering ducks. The 4 million acres of coastal marshes is declining in both quantity (approximate loss of 25,000 acres/year) and quality (conversion to more saline marshes) and this may be causing waterfowl distribution changes within the coastal zone. Inland waterfowl wintering areas have also been altered in the recent past through extensive land use changes. Major concentrations areas now occur in the central and northeast portion of the state. Documentation of the relative population of ducks and geese and their habitat use by region is needed to monitor status and assess current management programs.

One of the most important tools the Department uses to monitor populations and distributions of waterfowl is an aerial survey conducted from September through January. The survey consists of 27 north-south transect lines from the Gulf northward to U.S. Highway 90 that are one-quarter mile in width and vary in length from 8 to 48 miles. Survey lines are spaced at 7.5 mile intervals in the southwest and at 15 miles in the southeast resulting in 3% and 1.5% sampling rates in the 2 areas, respectively. A fixed wing aircraft is used for this inventory from an altitude of 125 feet at approximately 100 mph. The number of ducks and type of waterfowl species are recorded by habitat type on each survey line. Total counts of waterfowl are used on Catahoula Lake and in central and northeast Louisiana and on Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne. Inventories are used to develop an index of waterfowl populations for measuring relative changes in abundance and distribution. Information on current habitat conditions for waterfowl, weather patterns and migrations are also recorded during surveys. Results are compiled and mailed to cooperating agencies and interested individuals. Program personnel also participate in the coordinated Mississippi Flyway mid-December goose count and the mid-winter waterfowl survey in early January. Survey data aid in predicting and evaluating waterfowl hunter success and are most helpful when discussing waterfowl issues with concerned citizens, outdoor writers and wetland specialists from around the country.

Month/Year Surveys

Coastal Surveys

Wood Duck Box Program

Research in wetland forests has indicated that suitable nesting cavities for wood ducks are very limited. Current timber management practices in the southeast U.S. dictate that cavity densities will increase only slowly, if at all. Consequently, populations of wood ducks in the southeast, including Louisiana, may be limited by the number of suitable nesting cavities.

The Waterfowl Program initiated a wood duck box program in 1990 and currently manages over 2,750 nesting boxes. Boxes are mounted on pipe, donated by oil companies, with sheet metal predator guards and installed primarily on LDWF WMAs and also on select private wetlands, state parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers properties. Boxes are placed in or proximal to wetlands with good brood habitat in an effort to increase survival rates of young.

Waterfowl Program personnel work with a network of 25 LDWF biologists and specialists that check boxes at least twice/year to monitor annual production. Data from nesting boxes are computerized and summary reports developed. This program is increasing local breeding populations of wood ducks and increasing use of our WMAs by wood ducks. Hooded merganser nesting in boxes is also increasing on some WMAs. Program personnel conduct interagency wood duck workshops in conjunction with federal and state wildlife personnel to provide updated information and techniques to program participants. Personnel also work with university staff to facilitate wood duck research projects.

Wood duck population monitoring is difficult due to the bird's use of densely vegetated habitats. Banding is the primary tool for sampling wood duck populations and provides important information for management. Banding data, when combined with population and harvest data, also provide vital information on the life history, population status and ecology of wood ducks. LDWF typically bands nesting hens while checking nesting boxes, and all captured birds during the pre-hunting season period (July-August). The number of wood ducks banded each year, but over 1,700 have been banded the past 2 years, and Louisiana has banded more wood ducks since 1990 than any other southeastern state.

The preseason banding program is directed toward "local" wood ducks to obtain management information specific to wood ducks from Louisiana and the southern part of the flyway, including the recovery distribution, recovery rates, and survival rates. These data, along with reproduction data help to assess the affect of harvest on wood duck populations.

Waterfowl Program

The Waterfowl Program is coordinated by two biologists, the Waterfowl Study Leader and the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) Coordinator and involves many aspects of waterfowl/wetlands management, research, and monitoring. Due to the migratory nature of ducks and geese, many of these activities are coordinated with other states, multiple federal agencies and private conservation groups. Consequently, Waterfowl Program personnel represent LDWF on various committees which are involved in formulating state, regional and national programs that have impacts on wetlands and waterfowl.

Objective

The objective of the Waterfowl Program is to manage waterfowl resources and wetlands to provide for optimum wildlife benefits and quality outdoor experiences.

Louisiana is arguably the most important wintering area for waterfowl in the United States. Hordes of ducks and geese have utilized the coastal bays and marshes, flooded swamps, agricultural fields, inland lakes, river backwaters and oxbows for hundreds of years. Those habitats provide for the needs of a large proportion of Mississippi Flyway waterfowl during migration and winter, and for those of breeding wood ducks, mottled ducks, and a growing number of whistling ducks. The wetlands of Louisiana and their associated waterfowl attract hunters, birdwatchers, and scientists alike.

Waterfowl hunting is incredibly popular in Louisiana, and our harvest ranks at or near the top. According to the most recent USFWS Waterfowl Harvest Report, duck harvest in Louisiana ranked 1st and 4th in 2003 and 2004 respectively. That duck-hunting activity brings a lot of economic activity to the State. The latest evaluation of the economic impact of waterfowl hunting in the United States showed that hunters spent 1-million days and $105,000,000 hunting ducks in Louisiana in 2001.

In order to meet public demands for this resource, Waterfowl Program personnel offer technical assistance to improve wetland habitat on public and private lands to provide food for wintering ducks and geese, nest-sites and brood-rearing habitat for breeding wood ducks, and to improve hunting opportunities. They coordinate and participate in research efforts with other LDWF personnel, university staff, government agencies, and conservation organizations. Several population monitoring surveys are conducted by Program personnel to develop population indices, track population trends and document distribution of waterfowl. Lastly, biologists in the Waterfowl Program are an integral part of the Mississippi Flyway Council Technical Committee that gathers and interprets the technical data used to set annual waterfowl hunting regulations.

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