Strangely confusing are the factors affecting the continental waterfowl population this year. At the turn into summer there was ample water over much of the Canadian duck-breeding area. But the Fish and Wildlife Service of the United States Department of the Interior, on the basis of its mid-summer waterfowl survey, indicates the breeding population of ducks is the smallest of any year since these surveys began in 1951. The reason is apparent in the fact that for the past several years drought has gripped this continent’s prime duck factory – the prairie pothole region of , Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Despite increasing curtailment of seasons and limits, the number of ducks went down, down, down during this drought. Fish and Wildlife aerial surveys in the Canadian prairie provinces indicate an over-all 37 percent decrease in the breeding population in those areas. Mallards are 12 percent under 1961′s figure and pintails are down 28 percent. One of the few bright spots in this year’s early picture was the improvement of water and habitat in Minnesota, North and South Dakota. But any increased production from these states cannot compensate for lack of production in the southern portions of Canada’s prairie provinces which raise up to 80 percent of the continental duck population.
I have just completed my annual survey of the duck-breeding areas in Canada and our northern prairie states, traveling over 5000 miles from Eastern Ontario through Manitoba and Saskatchewan to , then back through the Dakotas and Minnesota. I can truthfully say that, despite all the water I saw, this is not the year to liberalize our season and limits. Canadian authorities are like-minded. Of course, it was too early to determine what production would be during the summer of 1962. But, with a reduced breeding population, it seems likely that wisdom will dictate another year of belt-tightening, as far as hunting regulations are concerned.
Gerry Malher, Game Director for Manitoba, told me, “It would be unwise to gamble on an unusually good production this year. It will be much wiser to figure on only a normal hatch of ducks.” We will not know the true picture until results of the brood counts are known and the ration of juveniles to adults is ascertained.
My own survey began in late May when I traveled up to the Grand Rapids hydro project at the mouth of the Saskatchewan river on lake Winnipeg. From there I was flown over the vast breeding grounds east of The Pas by pilot Ed Jensen and RCMP Constable Bun O’Neil. We looked over the vast Summerbury marshes and the breeding habitat at the north end of Lake Winnipegosis and Kelsey, Moose and Cedar Lakes. But this major duck factory cannot be counted on for the near future because the hydro dam, which will be completed in 1964, will flood and possibly destroy 1,600,000 acres of prime waterfowl and wildlife habitat. A team of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Manitoba Game and Fisheries Branch biologists has recommended installation of dikes and controls that could prevent inundation of 263,000 acres of wildlife habitat and reduce the reservoir area of the dam to approximately 800,000 acres rather than 1,6000,000.
In the second phase of my survey late in June, I spent a few days with Ernie Paynter, Saskatchewan director of wildlife, and Herb Moulding, provincial manager of Ducks Unlimited in Saskatchewan. Then I toured the parkland region around Prince Albert and flew on north beyond Lac La Ronge with Harvey Dryden, Saskatchewan tourist director. With us were Alan Hill, government photographer, and Maurice Smith, sports editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. Next I got in touch with Curt Smith, fish and wildlife director of in , then returned through North and South Dakota and western Minnesota’s pothole region.
At Winnipeg, Angus Gavin, Canadian general manager of Ducks Unlimited, told me, “Good rains are still needed to ensure brood survival in large areas of both Saskatchewan and .” He said that about the only water in southern available for breeding birds is that in irrigation reservoirs and on Ducks Unlimited projects. Over the three Canadian provinces, Ducks Unlimited now has 559 projects in operation, covering 810,000 acres. Here is the situation in detail in Ontario-Quebec, the prairie provinces and duck-breeding states.