From: Caryn Rousseau, Associated Press
Published December 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Experts Say Arkansas Duck Numbers Down 50 Percent

BRINKLEY, Ark. — Drought conditions during the summer left Arkansas wetlands dry this winter, forcing a 50 percent decrease in the number of ducks statewide, waterfowl experts said Wednesday.


"It really concentrates the ducks in areas where there is water," said Andrew James, waterfowl program coordinator with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "So for those who have water it's great, but if you don't have water it's not so great."


December aerial survey numbers show 289,589 ducks, compared to 558,380 during the same time last year, James said, a decrease of 48 percent. The 5-year average for the December survey is 638,400 ducks, he said.


At the Cache River Wildlife Management Area, which hosts hunters each duck season, manager Dennis Widner said he usually has 400,000 to 800,000 mallards.


Not so much this year, he said.


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"They're low. Very very low," he said, standing near cypress trees with last year's water lines 15 feet above his head. "We just don't have the habitat.


"Years like this year, our ducks will keep flying to Louisiana. They'll keep flying until they find a habitat they need," Widner said. "I've pumped water where I have pumps and I can, but it's nothing compared to natural water."


James said private duck clubs and public lands that have the ability to pump water into the fields to attract ducks are having a good season. But that water comes from aquifers that slowly are becoming low.


"There's a lot of concern about the aquifers in Arkansas," James said. "The two major ones are showing signs of going dry. We have the ability to pump water, but it's so dry that there's no water to pump."


But the low water and low duck numbers aren't any reason for Arkansas hunters to worry, James said. This is a cyclical pattern.


"Although nobody wants to have a dry year, it's really beneficial for the waterfowl habitat to be dry," James said. "That's really good for the soil, trees and other plants to be dry."


The Arkansas duck season runs until Jan. 29.


"Several of the years when we've killed the most ducks in Arkansas have been years like this when it's really dry," he said.


Mike Checkett, a waterfowl biologist with Ducks Unlimited in Memphis, Tenn., said that cold weather in the northern United States seems to be pushing ducks south.


"Illinois just published a survey," he said. "They still had fair numbers of ducks up there but not near the number that were there a week ago."


Checkett said a recent cold front has had an effect.


Source: Associated Press


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