Ducks Unlimited’s California Migration Projection Less Than Optimistic



Ducks Unlimited released its waterfowl migration predictions for the Pacific Flyway, and overall drought-stricken California’s analysis doesn’t bode well for the upcoming duck hunting seasons.

Here’s what DU says about California:

Areas of California with good waterfowl habitat could provide excellent hunting as long as food supplies hold out. Due to the drought, the acreage of flooded rice fields in the Central Valley could decline from 300,000 acres in a normal year to possibly as few as 50,000 this fall. The reduction in flooded rice fields on private lands and managed wetland habitat on federal and state areas could have a significant impact on waterfowl distribution. Given the ability of waterfowl to adapt to changing conditions, many believe ducks and geese will seek alternative habitats, and regional waterfowl movements and distribution may reflect this.

The Stockton Record also chimed in:

Even before the drought, waterfowl were already at a major disadvantage, with more than 90 percent of the Central Valley’s historic wetlands having been paved or plowed over the past century.

Only pockets of habitat remain. One of those pockets is the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes the San Joaquin River refuge south of Stockton. Officials there expect to receive about 65 percent of their normal water supply — a “huge hit” for refuges that are supposed to receive at least 75 percent even in a severe drought, said Kim Forrest, refuge manager.

This summer, the refuge didn’t have enough water to grow the plants that the birds like to feast upon, Forrest said.

Flooding fields to create roosting habitat has also proved difficult, with the parched earth sucking up much of that limited water. Ultimately, only about half of the 10,000 acres of wetlands at San Luis will be flooded this year.

“Our ditches were bone dry,” Forrest said. “There’s people who have worked here 30 years and have never seen that.”

In some places, hunting opportunities will be curtailed or even eliminated this fall. At the Grasslands Water District near Los Banos, a patch of privately hunted wetlands the size of New York City, General Manager Ric Ortega said he fears some hunters will walk away.

The Northeastern Zone season begins Saturday, with many other zones in the state getting started on Oct. 18.