Annual problem may postpone opening day until November
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Oct. 2, 2012 – Waterfowl hunters hoping to visit Sutter National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) may have to hunt further afield for the first part of the season. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reports that a lack of water availability is expected to keep the refuge closed to hunting until the area is 50% flooded or Nov. 17, whichever comes first.
The refuge’s water distribution system currently relies on gravity-fed drain water from the east Sutter Bypass canal which is managed by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). But if DWR raises the water elevation in the canal high enough for gravity flow onto the refuge to create sufficient waterfowl habitat for early-season hunting, some upstream rice fields will be flooded just when farmers need to harvest their crops and work the fields after harvest.
“Sutter NWR consists of more than 2,500 acres and was established to provide wintering habitat for waterfowl and other migratory birds and provide an alternate feeding ground to reduce crop damage from these birds,” said Dan Frisk, refuge manager of the Sacramento NWR Complex, which includes Sutter NWR. “We are very aware of how this affects both rice growers and hunters and are working together with DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to solve the problem.”
Since Sutter NWR has long had difficulty flooding sufficient wetland habitat in the late summer and early fall, Ducks Unlimited (DU), the California Waterfowl Association (CWA) and other stakeholders are helping look for answers. Last year, CWA provided support to flood the Sutter NWR hunt area and has offered to do the same this year in hopes of providing early-season public hunting opportunities. Local farmers and duck clubs have also stepped in to assist the refuge with equipment and other resources.
“Ensuring a timely fall flood-up at Sutter National Wildlife Refuge is not only important from a waterfowl habitat perspective due to the relatively small amount of managed wetlands within the Sutter Basin, but also to provide public hunting opportunity,” said Mark Hennelly, CWA vice president of legislative affairs and public policy. “CWA will continue to assist and coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, DU and our other conservation partners, as necessary, to address Sutter NWR’s water issues.”
The issue is incredibly complex and DU has been working with USFWS and other stakeholders for more than two years to achieve a long-term solution that addresses everyone’s concerns.“The most feasible solution is to install a lift pump that can convey the current supply of water to Sutter NWR when the water elevation in the east Sutter Bypass canal is low enough to prevent impacts to the adjacent rice fields—therefore being too low to allow gravity flow onto the refuge. The lift pump would also have the capacity to carry Central Valley Project Improvement Act mandated water supplies when BOR makes them available,” said Virginia Getz, DU manager of conservation programs. “This approach will ultimately benefit farmers, hunters and the resource.”
USFWS, CWA and DU agree the threat of delayed flood-up of wetland habitat and resulting loss of early-season hunting opportunities may be a recurring problem at Sutter NWR until a long-term solution is achieved. BOR is currently responsible for completing the engineering and constructing the infrastructure improvements. However, USFWS, CWA and DU will continue to work with BOR to ensure the process stays on track and the problem is solved as soon as possible.
In spite of concerns, opening the refuge after the hunting season begins may have its advantages too. The late start could allow waterfowl more time to grow accustomed to feeding and loafing in the refuge. This could ultimately provide a higher-quality hunting experience—a shorter season, but a greater experience for hunters. In addition, waterfowl populations historically peak at Sutter NWR from December to February, which is later than other refuges in the Sacramento NWR Complex. A later opening would allow hunters access during this peak time.
Some water is currently entering the north end of the refuge through a lift pump, and two temporary pumps should be available in early October to supplement it. Refuge staff will monitor the rate of flood-up to determine if the refuge can be opened earlier, but as of now, reservations for hunting on Sutter NWR are being accepted beginning Nov. 17. If the refuge does open to hunting earlier, there will be notifications on the Sacramento NWR website, http://www.fws.gov/sacramentovalleyrefuges/ht_hunting.html. The reservation system is run by the California Department of Fish and Game and reservations for any specific hunt day must be received 17 days prior to that day.
As waterfowl hunters gear up for opening day this fall, the Ducks Unlimited Migration Map will offer an up-to-date, convenient source of information on national wildlife refuges for waterfowling and other outdoor recreation. To find a local NWR, visit ducks.org/migrationmap and click on "National Wildlife Refuges" in the map toolbox on the left side of the page. Small Canada goose icons represent the locations of all NWRs and "learn more" links provide an expanded look at public hunting, fishing and other recreation opportunities at each refuge..
For more information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit http://www.fws.gov.
Ducks Unlimited Inc. is the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving North America's continually disappearing waterfowl habitats. Established in 1937, DU is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, with special events, projects and promotions across the continent. Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 12 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across the continent. Guided by science and dedicated to program efficiency, DU works toward the vision of wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever. For more information on our work, visit www.ducks.org. Connect with us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/ducksunlimited, follow our tweets at twitter.com/ducksunlimited and watch DU videos at youtube.com/ducksunlimitedinc.