State officials question accuracy of federal duck harvest survey showing big drop in hunters

  • Article by: DOUG SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 11, 2014 - 10:32 AM

Data says hunters in state dropped by 33 percent in 2013 — hard to believe.

There are problems with waterfowl harvest surveys in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Photo: File photo by doug smith • dsmith@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable,” Mark Twain wrote.

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently released its national 2013 waterfowl hunting harvest report — based on a survey of hunters — there was an eye-popping number under Minnesota’s data. The estimated number of active duck hunters in the state fell from around 78,000 in 2012 to just over 52,000 last year, a precipitous 33 percent decline and the lowest total since the current survey method began in 1999.

The problem: No one believes that number is even close to accurate.

“I don’t think our hunter numbers dropped 30 percent because we still sold 90,000 state duck stamps last year,’’ said Steve Cordts, Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist.

And similar discrepancies in hunter number estimates turned up in Texas (down 38 percent), Missouri (down 28 percent), Louisiana (down 25 percent) and Arkansas (down 22 percent) — casting serous doubt about the accuracy of other data in the survey, including duck harvest estimates.

That’s a major problem because the survey, along with waterfowl population surveys and banding programs, is used by federal officials to set hunting season regulations nationwide.

“They did something wrong, and I don’t know what it is,’’ said Larry Reynolds, waterfowl biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “There’s a reason why all of these states are having problems.’’

The federal report estimated the number of active duck hunters in Louisiana dropped from about 104,000 in 2012 to 78,000 last year, a decline of 26,000, which conflicts dramatically with state hunter surveys and state license sales. Other survey numbers are suspect, too, Reynolds said.

Khristi Wilkins, chief of harvest surveys for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Maryland, acknowledged that there appears to be a problem with the latest survey but said staffing issues make it uncertain whether the estimates can be corrected. In Minnesota’s case, there could be problems because of incomplete data or problems with survey responses, she said.

She noted all the figures in the survey are preliminary. When will they be finalized?

“I’m embarrassed to say we haven’t finalized anything since 2003,’’ she said. “That’s a really serious problem that I don’t have staff to deal with. We’re trying to do what we can, but we only have a couple of people.’’

Reynolds said that is a major concern.

“If the harvest survey efforts are struggling now because of lack of manpower, that’s something that absolutely has to be fixed,” he said. “Because we can’t even justify opening hunting seasons without credible estimates of harvest. That’s why HIP [Harvest Information Program] came into being in 1999, because of threats from anti-hunting factions that our harvest data was not credible.’’

The HIP program provides the Fish and Wildlife Service with a national registry of migratory bird hunters from which they can select participants for harvest surveys. Wilkins said the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the four flyways to review and improve HIP.

The federal survey estimates the number of “active’’ duck hunters. Minnesota also surveys small game hunters to estimate the number of duck hunters and harvest, and looks at state duck stamp sales. Cordts said officials estimate that about 90 percent of the 90,000 stamp purchasers hunted last year.

That would equal about 81,000 duck hunters, but that figure doesn’t includes youths 17 and under, hunters over 64 or those hunting waterfowl on their own property — all of whom don’t need a state stamp to hunt.

In 2012, the DNR estimated there were about 90,000 duck hunters. The DNR’s 2013 survey results haven’t been completed yet. But Cordts believes duck hunter numbers here have been stable in recent years, after peaking at around 140,000 in the 1950s and ’60s.

The federal estimate of active duck hunters is important because it affects other data in the report, including duck harvest. The report estimated Minnesota hunters killed about 608,000 ducks last fall, 141,000 (19 percent) fewer than 2012.

  • related content

  • Waterfowl season dates, limits

    Saturday August 9, 2014

    Minnesota’s waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise Sept. 27, under a similar season structure to last year.

  • about the season

    Minnesota’s waterfowl season will open a half-hour before sunrise Sept. 27, under a similar season structure to last year, with similar bag limits and with season dates that vary for north, central and southern zones.

    The daily bag limit remains six ducks. The mallard bag limit remains four, including two hens. The wood duck bag limit remains three.

    The only bag limit change from 2013 is the canvasback limit, which decreases from two to one per day.

    Youth Waterfowl Day will be Sept. 13, when hunters 15 and under may take regular-season bag limits when accompanied by an adult 18 or older.

    A change has been made to the south duck zone (south of Hwy. 212.) Hunting opens there for three days from Sept. 27 through Sept. 29, and then closes. The season reopens from Oct. 11 through Dec. 6.

    In the north duck zone (north of Hwy. 210), the season will run Sept. 27 through Nov. 25. And in the central duck zone, the season will run from Sept. 27 through Oct. 5, and from Oct. 11 through Nov. 30.

    Meanwhile, a special August Canada goose harvest began Saturday and runs through Aug. 24 in an intensive harvest zone. An early September Canada goose season opens Sept. 6, and the regular goose seasons opens with the regular duck hunting season Sept. 27.

    DOUG SMITH

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Oklahoma City
Orlando 7:00 PM
Memphis
Boston 8:00 PM
Utah
Denver 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Army 6:00 PM
American Univ
Wright State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Syracuse 6:00 PM
North Carolina
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Oakland
Delaware State 6:00 PM
NC Central
High Point 6:00 PM
Presbyterian
Howard 6:30 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Coppin State 6:30 PM
NC A&T
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Northwestern St
Hampton 6:30 PM
SC State
Gardner-Webb 7:00 PM
Campbell
MD-Eastern Shore 7:00 PM
Florida A&M
Stephen F Austin 7:00 PM
Lamar
Central Arkansas 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Norfolk State 7:00 PM
Savannah State
TX A&M-CC 7:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Sam Houston St 7:00 PM
Abilene Christian
McNeese State 7:00 PM
Incarnate Word
Milwaukee 7:05 PM
Valparaiso
Alcorn State 7:30 PM
Alabama A&M
Southern U 7:30 PM
Alabama State
Prairie View 8:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
Texas 8:00 PM
Iowa State
Texas Southern 8:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 26 2nd Half 16:59
Bethune-Cookman 39
Coppin State 27 2nd Half 15:55
NC A&T 35
Hampton 47 2nd Half 16:07
SC State 30
Norfolk State 31 2nd Half
Savannah State 30
Prairie View 5:00 PM
Ark-Pine Bluff
MD-Eastern Shore 14 1st Half 3:33
Florida A&M 27
Samford 20 1st Half 0:01
(25) Chattanooga 31
Texas Southern 5:30 PM
Miss Valley St
Alcorn State 0 1st Half 20:00
Alabama A&M 0
Southern U 6 1st Half 16:46
Alabama State 2
(12) Texas A&M 6:00 PM
(1) South Carolina
Robert Morris 6:00 PM
Mount St Marys
East Tenn St 6:00 PM
Mercer
Wofford 6:00 PM
Furman
Morehead St 6:00 PM
Tenn Tech
Illinois 6:00 PM
Michigan
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 8:00 PM
Auburn
(15) Nebraska 8:00 PM
(20) Iowa
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close