DU Podcast Transcript: Ep. 2 – North American Waterfowl Populations (Waterfowl Survey Overview)

Hosts Chris Jennings and Dr. Mike Brasher are joined by Dr. Tom Moorman, DU Chief Scientist to discuss the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) report on 2019 Trends in Duck Breeding Populations

© Michael Furtman

Clay Baird: Welcome to the Ducks Unlimited podcast. The only podcast about all things waterfowl. From hunting insights to science based discussions about ducks, geese, and issues affecting waterfowl in the wetlands conservation in North America. We bring the resource to you. The DU podcast with your host, Chris Jennings.

Chris Jennings: We've got the duck numbers, 2019 waterfowl population status has been released by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Always an exciting time of year, especially here at Ducks Unlimited. Today I've got Doctor Tom Moorman, Ducks Unlimited's chief scientist and Dr. Mike Brasher, waterfowl scientist here at national headquarters. Tom, one thing before we get started and really dive into the numbers. You mentioned that you'd like to give a special thanks to the US Fish and Wildlife Service and partners and separate agencies who do all the legwork for this survey. Kind of explain to people what all this survey entails.

Tom Moorman: Thanks, Chris. Fish and Wildlife Service deserves a lot of credit here. This is a survey that's been done since 1955, haven't missed a year since. It is extensive, covering most of the Dakota's, most of the important parts of Canada, and parts of Alaska. It requires an amazing amount of effort in a relatively short period of time. It has to start after the birds arrive and it has to be completed before the birds really get progressed into the nesting season where they become difficult to count. So, the Fish and Wildlife Service has pilot biologists and/or some contract pilots, and a bunch of biologists join them and fly these surveys inside of about a month. If you look at the report, it's about 170 individual biologists who contribute information to it. The Fish and Wildlife Service coordinates all that information, and within about two months produces a remarkable report with an amount of detail that is really, there's no compare. This survey has, as I said, the longest running time span, probably provides the best population management for any group of wildlife in the world. So we give great credit to the service, their partners, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, lots of state waterfowl biologists participate. Even some travel biologists. It's just a really remarkable survey that provides the baseline information on which North American waterfowl populations are managed. It informs harvests and regulations, so hunters kind of need to appreciate that and give credit where credit is due to the service for pulling this thing off on an annual basis.

Chris Jennings: Absolutely. It's quite the undertaking. Mike, you kind of mentioned something about the expectations. I look at this as a duck hunter. I get fired up when the duck numbers come out. But spending enough time with biologists and you guys, I know not to set my expectations. There are some hunters out there who prefer to try and get excited about this. But what exactly is this survey for and what does it mean?

Mike Brasher: Chris, again, thanks for having me on here. As you started off with, this is an exciting time of year. Hunters do look forward to this, other folks look forward to this. Tom did reference it is a truly impressive collection of data, unparalleled anywhere in the world. While all of that information, it generates a lot of buzz among hunters, I think the most important thing to realize is, the primary purpose of this information is to inform harvest. As well as to allow us to continually assess the populations and the status of these habitats to ensure that the management that we're doing on the ground, as well as the harvest regulations that are formulated, are appropriate for the status of the populations. So, yes, it is natural to expect that hunters will look to this. Because it does give some index to the potential for the production of ducks in a given year. Each hunter is probably going to have some way that they look forward to the hunting season and try to imagine the success they're going to have, the opportunity for success... so this is just -

Chris Jennings: Absolutely, duck hunters are optimists.

Mike Brasher: That's right. This is just one part of it. There's a whole host of things that play a role in what they will actually see later in the year. Once you start talking about the hunting success, there's a whole host of other reasons that may come into play there. It's good to get excited about this, but it is important to remember its primary purpose.

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Tom Moorman: I think it's important for hunters to remember also, regardless of what the population estimate is, it could be a boom year where we have record populations or it could be a bust year. I'm old enough to remember some bust years in the late 80s. Still go hunting, and whether the population's high or low, that doesn't necessarily equate to hunting success in your region. That's more driven by weather and birds making migrations or not. It's driven by local habitat and regional habitat conditions, too much water, too little water, lots of food, not enough food. All those kinds of things.

Tom Moorman: So, yeah, it's exciting. I'm like everybody else, it's like Christmas day when that thing comes out. But it does not necessarily equate to hunting success. You can have a great year of hunting when populations are low. Bag limits might be a little less, but you can still have a great year.

Chris Jennings: And there's so many variables involved in-

Tom Moorman: Tons.

Chris Jennings: I mean, everything from weather to habitat. It's all across the board. Absolutely, we're going to touch on that here coming up in the next few podcasts. I appreciate you guys joining me today. We're going to wrap this one up. For anyone looking for more information, you can visit ducks.org/ducknumbers. You can get the full report, full chart and everything. But join us for the next show, and we will go through each species, pond counts. We're going to wrap it all up. Thanks guys.

Clay Baird: Thank you for listening to this episode of the DU podcast. Be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the show. Visit www.ducks.org/dupodcast, for resources based on today's topics as well as access to more episodes. Until next time, stay tuned to the ducks.