After Katrina, Louisiana Wild Duck Populations at Risk

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“Reynolds said a check of coastal waterfowl aerial surveys prior to
the 2005 generally showed the populations split 50/50 between
southwest and southeast Louisiana, with some surveys showing more
birds in the southeast. Katrina changed all that.”
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Times Picayune (New Orleans)
November 1, 2008

Experts fear Louisiana duck hunting may suffer permanent damage from
recent storms
http://blog.nola.com/outdoors/2008/11/experts_fear_louisiana_duck_hu.html

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… a growing number of signs indicate those hard times may be the
wave of the future for southeast Louisiana.

“I’m worried that what the numbers are telling me is that what so
many of us feared is beginning to happen — bottom might be falling
out there in southeast Louisiana, as far as the carrying capacity for
wintering waterfowl, ” said Larry Reynolds, the waterfowl study
leader for the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. “This
isn’t a proven science yet. But the indicators are so strong it’s
something we really have to look at.”

It all comes down to hurricanes and the loss of coastal wetlands.

The submerged aquatic vegetation — “SAVs” in biologists’ parlance —
growing in our coastal marshes, is the food that has been attracting
wintering waterfowl to the Louisiana coast for thousands of years.
When large hurricanes hit the coast, they typically destroy these
floating plants, leading to a down year for hunters because arriving
ducks that don’t find enough food quickly leave the area.

“There may be scattered patches of SAVs left, but our field reports
showed it was almost a complete loss, even in the big river deltas
like the Atchafalaya and the Mississippi, ” Reynolds said.

“I’m not so much worried about having a down year this season,
because you expect that after a hurricane, ” Brockhoeft said. “What’s
really blowing my mind is how quickly the little marsh we had left
has been turned into open water. I think I really started noticing a
big difference after Izzy and Lily (in 2002), and it’s just gotten
worse with every storm.”

Reynolds said a check of coastal waterfowl aerial surveys prior to
the 2005 generally showed the populations split 50/50 between
southwest and southeast Louisiana, with some surveys showing more
birds in the southeast. Katrina changed all that.

“Since 2005, 75 to 90 percent of the birds we’re counting are coming
in the southwest, ” he said. “There was one survey out of the last
seven that had more balance, only because we hit a strong patch of
pintails in Pass-a-Loutre. But otherwise, we’re showing a sharp
decline.”

That decline tracts the rapid loss of wetlands in the southeastern
coast — the highest rate in the state, and one of the highest in the
world.

Reynolds’ concern is that southeastern Louisiana’s wetlands loss has
pushed its waterfowl carrying capacity off a cliff. Like other
hunters, he knows birds may still come down with stiff cold fronts,
pushed to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico looking for food and
shelter. But when all they see is open water, they’ll simply stop
coming.

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