Michigan DNR may expand waterfowl season

Lansing — State wildlife officials are recommending waterfowl hunting regulations for the 2017-18 season that are largely the same as last year, including an extension of an experimental early teal season.

Michigan DNR officials want to extend an experimental early teal season from seven days to 10 days, to run from Sept. 1-10 statewide. Officials started the season in 2014 and used spy blinds to monitor incidental take of non-target species, and observations showed figures within federal tolerances, according to Russ Mason, DNR wildlife chief.

“Overall, the incidental take was very low. So we’ve sort of passed our experimental test,” Mason told Michigan Outdoor News. “We’re proposing a fourth experimental year, but it will probably not involve spy blinds.

“From our perspective, there’s no reason the teal season doesn’t become permanent in the next year or two,” he said.

Paul Conners, chairman of the Citizens Waterfowl Advisory Committee, said CWAC members suggested a 10-day season for teal for 2017 to expand opportunities for hunters. The daily bag limit of six teal and possession limit of 18 birds, as well as hunting hours that start at sunrise, would remain the same as previous years.

“The CWAC committee voted on a 10-day season … to be able to include two weekends of hunting, that’s why we suggested 10 days instead of seven,” Conners said. “That second weekend also includes the youth hunt.”

In a final report on the experimental teal season in Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin produced in February, spy blinds observed Michigan hunters kill 119 teal from 2014-2016, as well as 18 non-target species. Across all three states, spy blinds observed hunters harvest a total of 908 teal, with 39 non-target species killed.

“The first year went well, the second year went not so well, and the third year was OK, as far as what the spy blinds reported,” Conners said.

The state waterfowl regulations are set within federal guidelines and must gain approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this summer. States shifted from using current year data to year-old data to set regulations earlier in the year, and Michigan officials introduced the proposed seasons in February. The 2016 estimates show an overall increase in total ducks, mallards, and Canada geese over 2015, with slightly less wetland abundance.

For Michigan’s duck season, “there’s slight changes in the timing of seasons to accommodate interests in the northern Lower and Upper peninsulas,” Mason said, but the season remains mostly the same as 2016.

New federal regulations on black and pintail ducks, however, changed recommended bag limits for those species.

“The feds now say we can only shoot one pintail and we can shoot two black ducks,” Conners said, “it was flipped before.”

Mason said 2017 is expected to be the first year since the early 1960s that waterfowl hunters will have a daily bag limit of two black ducks.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a different model to estimate black duck populations,” Mason said. “We continue to move toward more liberal regulations with a variety of species.”

For geese, DNR officials recommended a reallocation of the 107-day season in the northern Lower Peninsula “to line up with what hunters wanted,” and the elimination of numerous special zones – save the Muskegon wastewater and Allegan State Game Area, Mason said.

DNR biologist Dave Luukkonen said officials are also suggesting a dark goose aggregate daily bag limit for Canada geese, white-fronted geese, and brant of five birds, only one of which can be brant, between Sept. 1-30 and after Oct. 1, and only three can be Canada geese.

“In the past we’ve had different season timings with these different geese and it’s gotten messy,” Luukkonen said. “It puts all the goose seasons together for those birds.”

DNR officials expect the waterfowl regulations to be finalized by the Natural Resources Commission in March, with final approval from the USFWS later this summer.

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