Counts, Kills, Pond Counts, Breeding Pairs

The Rumpot

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Is there some agreed-upon official count for kills, breeding pairs, pond counts etc. for ducks and geese?

And exactly which counts are taken when and how? Guys are throwing count numbers around like confetti.
Is that because there are different counts?
 

CAwtrfwlhntr

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Originally posted by The Rumpot@Jul 31 2004, 07:06 AM
Is there some agreed-upon official count for kills, breeding pairs, pond counts etc. for ducks and geese?

And exactly which counts are taken when and how? Guys are throwing count numbers around like confetti.
Is that because there are different counts?
From what I have heard there is not......but.....you should ask some of the guys on the fuge, a few always seem to think they are right and know everything!!!!

Beaware of Madduck, they are the real threat!
 

CFeldheim

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Since I've collected and analyzed some of these data, I’ll give this one a shot.

It’s important to remember that with all these data that they are simply samples within the population and then the values are extrapolated across an area, or for the number of duck hunters. So these values are in no way the actual value. They are meant to be a value that can track the year to year change in the variable of interest with a certain amount of statistical validity.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collects (with help from states and Canadian Wildlife Service) the data that would be considered official. Most of it is posted on their web page at some point. The breeding surveys take place in May and the data that is most of interest to duck hunters is in the Traditional Survey Area, which is basically, the U.S. and Canadian prairies, Alaska, and regions in Northern Canada. During this same time, a May Pond survey is completed in the U.S. and Canadian prairies. Breeding goose surveys are also conducted. The FWS data are the most statistically valid and are the longest running surveys (generally, 30-50+ years).

Other states conduct breeding surveys as well, such as, California. California’s breeding survey is generally conducted in April. Unlike the FWS survey, there is no survey of habitat conditions and the survey has only been conducted the same way for 14 years. Breeding waterfowl surveys conducted outside the FWS’s Traditional Survey Area (TSA) present statistical challenges. The area within the TSA are comprised of relatively continuous habitat types which allow one to sample the population and then extrapolate to a bigger area. However, in a state like California, the habitat and agriculture are just too darn diverse to make extrapolation valid. For example, its not valid to count the number of breeding ducks at Mendota and extrapolate to the entire San Joaquin Valley (although this is the current practice).

Harvest (Kill) estimates are conducted by each Flyway in February through a survey of randomly selected hunters who agree to send in the wings of all the ducks and geese they kill, and record the date and location of the kill. Again these are administered by the FWS. Each wing is identified to species, sex and age (adult or immature). From these samples, harvest estimates are generated. These data are generally accepted to be the best indicator we have of that year’s breeding success (unfortunately, we have to kill the birds to determine it, can’t go back and change the season once its realized that breeding in California was poor). Interestingly, Delta Waterfowl has been funding some research concerning the accuracy of those identifying the wings and so far it looks pretty good, although the work is not yet completed or published in the scientific literature.

Another survey conducted is the mid-winter count. This has been done throughout the country for 30+ years. However, the accuracy of these counts has been questioned (you can imagine flying in a plane over a refuge like Delevan, where one flushes ten of thousands of birds and trying to count every individual and record every species, almost impossible!). To date, its generally thought that these data are near worthless.

The only data that is used in the AHM process is the Mallard counts in the TSA plus a few states and may ponds. The rest of the data is left to academics, nonprofits, and other biologists to interpret and speculate about. Which leads me to the comment about Madduck.


I don’t agree with everything Madduck says, however, they are willing to say things that others aren’t and to their credit people are listening, even some people in academia have tested some of the ideas presented by Madduck. Norm Seymour, who often writes for Madduck, has written one of the best books I’ve ever read, entitled, Living a Dream, the Education of a Duck Hunter. I don’t believe Madduck is the enemy, the Humane Society is!

Sorry I didn’t post up sooner, I was on vacation for a week.
 

DanD

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Originally posted by CFeldheim@Aug 9 2004, 04:35 PM
The area within the TSA are comprised of relatively continuous habitat types which allow one to sample the population and then extrapolate to a bigger area.  However, in a state like California, the habitat and agriculture are just too darn diverse to make extrapolation valid.  For example, its not valid to count the number of breeding ducks at Mendota and extrapolate to the entire San Joaquin Valley (although this is the current practice).
CF, great post very informative. One question.

Would this be the way they are getting the numbers for breeding mallards in CA? If so there seems to be a few holes in this, mainly if you are not taking habitat into consideration then how could you possibly compare the numbers from year to year. The most important variable is not included, habitat.

Also would you know if these are the numbers that DFG is using to support there recommendation to have a more restrictive season than what the Feds have offered?

Thanks,
 

Matt Thompson

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Originally posted by CFeldheim@Aug 9 2004, 05:35 PM
Since I've collected and analyzed some of these data, I’ll give this one a shot.
Great post. Also, always good to see some one remember that "data" is plural.
 

CFeldheim

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DanD,

This is how the data for CA is collected and the very data that DFG is using to recommend a change in the season. There are some very large holes in it and DFG and CWA are well aware of it. I think they have currently contracted with USGS in Dixon (the guys who did the satellite pintail work) to come up with some ideas to redesign the survey (when I was at DFG I tried at length to come up with a simple solution but ended up concluding that the current survey was inherently flawed and no simple correction would be possible). The fact that habitat is not measured hurts us in many ways. Perhaps, the most important is that we have no idea what habitat variable is most related to population changes and this is probably the single biggest factor that is hindering the development of a Western Mallard AHM model. We can't predict how populations are going to change from year to year like we can with May Ponds and mid-continent mallards.

That said it is the best data we have available to make decisions from. What's kind of scary is that DFG has now twice made more conservative recommendations than the FWS based on this data. When the FWS makes a season recommendation, they produce a 30+ page document citing a lot of data sources (and make it public for everyone to review). Personally, I'd like to see something more than a population value with a lot of methodological flaws (both biological and statistical) when our duck season is determined. I think the ducks and duckhunters deserve more.
 

The Rumpot

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Mr. Feldheim,

Thank you for making it a little easier to understand. The best (and worst) thing you said is that there are holes in the data and surveys. The best because I feel a little better for not understanding it in the first place; the worst because the powers are pretty much making guesstimates as to how our seasons and limits should be structured.

Interesting what you said about the habitat issue relative to the western mallard AHM model. How much of the pie does CA, WA, and OR take up versus the rest of the nation in terms of harvest and production in your opinion? And what percentage of the mallards we harvest in CA do you think are produced in CA?

I have heard that the most of the Pintail we harvest in CA are out of Alaska. Any information on that? If that is true, you know my next question.

Thanks for the excellent information.
 

Jay

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Originally posted by Matt Thompson@Aug 10 2004, 09:14 AM
Also, always good to see some one remember that "data" is plural.
Datum?

Dati?

Datas?

Alpha Beta?
 

CFeldheim

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Rumpot,

In relation to California’s Mallard harvest, there are two publications/studies that I know of, Munro and Kimball, a published report from 1982 (that examines the years 1961-75) and Zuwerink, an unpublished Master’s thesis from Ohio State University, in 2001 (that examines the years 1990-97). Munroe and Kimball use banding data and Zuwerink uses harvest data to determine harvest derivation. These methods have three key assumptions, accurate estimates of breeding populations (especially outside of the mid-continent), the banding effort is similar in all areas, and only for Zuwerink’s, that harvest estimates are accurate. Research funded by Delta Waterfowl would suggest that the third assumption is valid, or close to it. The other two assumptions are open for debate. I think its clear that breeding populations in the Pacific Flyway, that are outside of the FWS’ traditional survey area, are not surveyed accurately. Similarly, banding effort is no where near to equal. For example, banding data published by the FWS indicates that between 1980 and 1999, an average of about 6,400 mallards were banded a year in California compared to only about 1,700 in British Columbia (BC), Alaska, and the Northwest Territories (NWT) combined. During this same period, mallard breeding population estimates for California averaged about 390,000 compared to about 1,500,000 in the NWT and Alaska (surveys weren’t conducted in BC at the time, however, more recent surveys suggest a population of about 500,000 breeding mallards). So, the short of it is, that relative to the mallard breeding population, California bands about 15 times more mallards than the NWT and 10 times more than Alaska.

Given these caveats, back to the data. The two studies conclude that about 67% percent of California’s mallard harvest is comprised of birds the breed in California. While this sounds like a lot, there is no getting over the violation of the second assumption. We cannot shoot birds with bands on them if they aren’t banded! So my best guess is that it is more like 20-40% in any given year and that varies tremendously within the season and within the state (In my mind this is still enough to make conservation of California’s breeding mallards valid and important). However, the fact of the matter is that we do not know (though you’ll never get CWA to admit it, at least not on record). Similarly, from a pintail perspective, so few birds have been banded we really don’t have enough data to draw any solid conclusions.

Honestly, the reasons these birds have not been banded are complex, but ultimately, I think it stems from a lack of leadership and lack of desire to find out the truth (for example, over the years, the powers to be at CWA may not have wanted to know the truth, because it could have hurt the strength of their California Mallard program, a big source of funding for the organization).

In relation to your other question, California, Oregon, and Washington, make up a very small portion of the U.S. and Canada’s breeding mallards (<2%) and about 10% of the total mallard harvest.
 

The Rumpot

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Mr. Feldheim,

Thanks for the info. Very enlightening.

Refreshing to hear some intelligent words from an informed entity out there whose info is not tainted by dollars, ego, blind faith, and/or greed.

Not going to ask you about DFG and other groups relative to how $ effect some of their positions on certain issues. You've already touched on it.

But I do have another question for you.

If you took a vote of the average person about hunting I think the majority would vote against killing wild animals. That being the case (at least here in CA) who (in government) pushes the hunting agenda the hardest and what is the main reason they push it?
 

CFeldheim

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Actually, I think one of the things that is hurting us right now and will probably only get worse is the lack of anyone pushing for hunting within the government. My experience at DFG, FWS, and in academia suggests that more and more people are becoming biologists because they want to conserve wildlife and protect our environment, and at the risk of being sexist (but honest), more and more are women. Fewer and fewer biologists hunt and fish. At a University such as Humboldt State where more wildlife biologists are put in our agencies than any other university, I’d guess that less than 1% of the people studying to become a wildlife biologist hunt or fish. Worse yet, I do not believe that there is a single professor within their Wildlife Program that hunts (I know, at least one, fishes). As my graduate advisor told me, the waterfowl biologist is a dying breed.

The end result is that the only people pushing for hunting are the ones that hunt themselves and have some investment in it and passion for it. In California, that is Mark Hennelley and Bill Gains at CWA and only a handful of people within the government agencies.

One of the biggest challenges we face, is defending what we do while at the same time ensuring that the people making decisions about hunting are doing what’s best for hunters. We also need to get more and more young hunters interested in becoming wildlife biologists (and advanced college degrees).
 
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