Minnesota licensed fewer duck hunters last fall than at any time in history, a sad testament to the state’s once-glorious waterfowl hunting tradition, during which for multiple decades more duck hunters went afield here in autumn than in any other state.
Yet the long-awaited update to the Department of Natural Resources’ 50-year — 50-year — duck plan hasn’t yet been started.
That was the astonishing news delivered at the recent DNR Roundtable by wildlife section chief Paul Telander, who was responding to a simple question: “How’s the duck plan update coming?’’
To the double surprise of waterfowlers in Telander’s audience, the chief’s response was: “We just finished the goose plan. The duck plan is next.’’
Minnesota needs a goose plan?
The answer is, maybe. But on the list of game-management priorities, it would certainly fall below (as one example) a ruffed grouse plan and, for sure, a duck plan.
Geese, after all, aren’t in trouble. They are adaptable nesters whose Minnesota population is largely regulated by hunting. Ducks, by contrast, are in a world of hurt in this state, and their accelerated management should be a DNR priority.
Consider also that the DNR Canada goose plan, which is actually a draft goose plan, sets the year 2056 as its management target date. By which time, according to the plan, the DNR will manage to … wait for it … reduce the number of Minnesota Canada geese from the 2001-17 spring breeding average of 170,000 birds, to 140,000.
Notably, the state’s goose-hunter numbers peaked in the year 2000 from about 80,000, before falling to 40,000 in 2016 (still the most of any state). During the same period, September goose season hunters plummeted from 45,000 to 26,000.
One can only imagine the tiny gaggle of waterfowlers who will still be afield by mid-century if the DNR’s plan works.
To his credit, DNR Fish and Wildlife division director Jim Leach indicated last week the agency’s goose plan — and its duck plan, if one is ever written — should have been frontloaded with input from the public and conservation groups, rather than released for comment after being constructed by the DNR.
An even better idea is to abandon the agency’s game-species planning process altogether due to its glacial pace and because, too often within the DNR, plan writing and reviewing ultimately becomes the point of the exercise, rather than improvement of the intended species.
Saturday, new DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen will speak to the state Ducks Unlimited convention in Willmar. Attending will be men and women who bow their backs nearly every day in support of Minnesota ducks and other wetland wildlife.
These volunteers in service to Minnesota won’t want to hear about a plan to help ducks. They will want to know what the DNR will do. And how quickly.