By Graham Peters, Ducks Unlimited Biologist
Western Oregon waterfowl hunters are experiencing average hunting conditions at the onset of the 2012-13 waterfowl hunting season. As weather conditions permit, we expect this to be a banner year given the estimated duck population of 48.6 million in the traditional survey area, which is 43 percent above the long-term average. However, due to low river levels coupled with a record-setting dry spell in which Portland only received a ¼-inch of rainfall between July 1 and Sept. 30, seasonal and floodplain wetlands remain dry.
“We are essentially limited by roosting and loafing water right now until rains come and the river rises,” Rob Prince, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff member at Sauvie Island WMA says. “However, the eastside management unit’s wetlands are charged and hunter harvest reflects decent waterfowl use.”
Currently, with three days of waterfowl hunting on the Sauvie Island WMA, the bird-per-hunter average is 2.7, which is above the 2011-2012 average of 2.3 birds per hunter.
In my observation, Pacific Flyway waterfowl generally rely heavily on coastal habitats in early season due to the reliable water. As rain begins to inundate floodplain wetlands, waterfowl begin to migrate inland or continue their journey south.
Waterfowlers are doing well in areas with managed wetlands that have the ability to be pumped in the early season. Otherwise, I suggest focusing efforts on coastal habitats such as major bays and estuaries, including the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge, Tillamook Bay and Willapa Bay.
Despite the dry conditions, hunters should be experiencing relatively good success with a large fall flight expected and concentrated bird use. As always, watch your local weather conditions.
Graham Peters, a biologist with Duck Unlimited’s Pacific Northwest Field Office, is a Pacific Northwest native who has been hunting waterfowl since he was 12. He earned an undergraduate degree in Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University, with emphasis in wetland ecology. In graduate school at OSU, he evaluated the Wetland Reserve Program in Oregon and Washington. Peters began working as a biologist for the Pacific Northwest field office in 2010 and currently works with a team of DU engineers, draftsman, and surveyors, as well as a diverse collection of conservation partners to coordinate and implement wetland restoration, enhancement and protection projects in western Oregon and Washington.