NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana duck hunters were disappointed with their bags for most of last season, but if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is correct, they should be much happier this year.
The service released its annual breeding-duck count last week, and it was up 8 percent over last year. Total populations were estimated at 49.2 million breeding ducks in the Prairie Pothole Region stretching from the northern U.S. into Canada. Last year's count was 45.6 million birds.
This year's strong population is 43 percent greater than the 1955-2013 long-term average, the service said.
The estimated count of gadwall, the species most important to South Louisiana marsh hunters, was 3.8 million, which is 14 percent above last year and 102 percent greater than the long-term average.
American wigeon climbed to 3.1 million, which is 18 percent above last year's estimate.
Blue-winged teal numbered 8.5 million, 10 percent higher than last year and 75 percent above the long-term average. The number means hunters will likely be able to take six ducks during this September's special teal season.
Mallards were up 5 percent for the year, numbering 10.9 million. That's 42 percent above the long-term average.
Northern pintail, at 3.2 million, were down slightly from last year. The population remains 20 percent below the long-term average.
According to Ducks Unlimited, the main determining factor for duck breeding success is wetland and upland habitat conditions in prairie region as well as in the boreal forest of Canada. Officials counted 7.2 million ponds this year on the breeding grounds, which is similar to 2013 and 40 percent above the long-term average.
The news almost certainly means Louisiana hunters will be treated to another 60-day season with six ducks per day. The four flyway councils and the USFWS regulations committee will meet later this month to finalize the season structures and bag limits.
The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will set the specific dates for the state's season later in the summer.
Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com