Pandemic again nixes feds’ annual survey of ducks and geese

Mallards and other ducks sit on a pond in southern Idaho.

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service canceled its annual survey of ducks and geese on breeding grounds in North America.

The surveys were nixed when the Canadian Wildlife Service and many state and provincial wildlife agencies signaled they would not be able to participate because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S.-Canada border was still largely closed last spring, complicating the surveys. COVID-19 also led to cancellation of the counts in 2020.

The surveys that cover about 2 million square miles in Alaska, Canada and the upper Midwest are conducted in the spring to estimate waterfowl population sizes and guide the setting of waterfowl bag limits and season lengths.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials considered conducting the surveys only within the U.S. but determined doing so would yield incomplete data and thus not justify the cost and risk of the surveys that involved helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft.

In the absence of the breeding survey data, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it would rely on long-term population trends as well as information from other spring and summer monitoring programs when setting hunting season frameworks. The agency also signaled that because waterfowl populations are considered healthy based on long-term data, its hunting seasons in most cases would mirror those of recent years.

Because waterfowl populations cross state and international borders, the federal agency sets frameworks, such as allowable season lengths, for hunting seasons, and states set their seasons based on those parameters. Both Idaho and Washington have largely set their duck and geese seasons with the same bag limits as recent years and kept the same season lengths. n

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