Author Topic: Ted Nichols August 2015 Report to the Division Fish & Game Council  (Read 2021 times)

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WATERFOWL - STUDY PLAN IV
Ted Nichols, Principal Biologist
Patrick C. Carr, Supervising Biologist

2015 Waterfowl Status and Waterfowl Seasons

The Division selected the final 2015-16 migratory bird hunting season regulations.  There are several changes from last year. Major changes for the upcoming season include the following:

•   The brant season will be 30 days with a bag limit of 1 bird; the brant season will be closed during part of the 60-day duck season in all zones.
•   The Regular Canada goose season in the Coastal Zone was extended and the bag limit increased to 5 birds.
•   The canvasback bag limit was increased to 2 birds.
•   Due to calendar changes, the duck season in the Coastal Zone will run later into January at the expense of days taken from the first split in November.
•   The second Youth Waterfowl Day in the Coastal Zone will occur after the close of the regular duck season and occur on February 13, 2016.

Each year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) develops migratory bird hunting regulations after input and consultation with the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific Flyway Councils. The Flyway Councils are comprised of representatives from state and provincial wildlife agencies that work with the Service to cooperatively manage North America's migratory bird populations.
Duck hunting regulations are based on biological population assessments using the Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) process, which has been developed cooperatively by the Service and Flyway Councils. AHM is an objective, science-based regulation-setting process. During 2015, the AHM process suggested that a liberal duck hunting season in all flyways was consistent with the long-term welfare of North American waterfowl populations. In Atlantic Flyway states including New Jersey, liberal duck hunting season frameworks include a 60 day season with a 6-duck bag limit.  New Jersey has had 60-day duck seasons since 1997.
During 2015 in the eastern survey area, key species including mallards, black ducks, and green-winged teal were down somewhat from their long-term averages.  Duck species from the mid-continent (prairie) region including blue-winged teal, gadwall, shovelers, canvasbacks, and redheads, were above their respective long-term averages. Pintails were down 24% from their long-term average which required a continuation of the more restrictive 2-bird bag.  Scaup were 13% below their long-term average and the 2-bird bag was also retained. 
This year, the daily bag limit in New Jersey will be 6 ducks and may not include more than 4 mallards (including no more than 2 hens), 4 scoters, 2 scaup, 3 wood ducks, 2 redheads, 2 pintails, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 black duck. The bag limit is 6 ducks for all other duck species. Merganser bag limits will remain at 5 birds per day with no more than 2 hooded mergansers.  Merganser bag limits are in addition to regular duck bag limits.
To better serve New Jersey’s sportsmen, the Division conducted a season selection preference survey of duck hunters during the winter of 2012-13.  The majority of Coastal Zone hunters indicated that they preferred to hunt later into January by taking days from the 1st split in November.  Due to the later date of Thanksgiving, and the fact that the Federal framework runs to January 30, Coastal Zone hunters will notice the late season framework this year which allows for only a 3-day segment earlier in the fall.  Similarly, this will be the third year where the South Zone duck season will run later into January at the expense of days taken from the first split in October.  Additional information and detailed results from this survey can be found on the Division’s web site at: http://njfishandwildlife.com/pdf/2013/wtrfwl_hntr_survey12-13.pdf

The "regular" Canada goose season is based on the status of Atlantic Population (AP) Canada geese which nest on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec. The AP is New Jersey's primary migrant Canada goose population.  A total of 161,300 breeding pairs were estimated from surveys during June 2015.  49% of the indicated pairs were observed as single birds, suggesting an average nesting effort.  The breeding population has been stable for the past 10 years so the “regular” Canada goose season will remain the same as last year with a 50 day season and 3-bird bag limit in the North and South Zones.

Upon reviewing contemporary leg band recovery data from migrant population (AP and North Atlantic Population) Canada geese in New Jersey, it was determined that the Coastal Zone qualified as an Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada Goose Zone.  Resident Population Zones have been used in Atlantic Flyway states since 2002 and include portions of the Flyway which winter relatively few migrant geese.  As such, Resident Population Zones can have more liberal goose hunting seasons than zones which winter significant numbers of migrant Canada geese.  As a result of this analysis, the Canada goose season in New Jersey’s Coastal Zone was extended and the bag limit increased to 5 birds.  This change will be implemented during the next three years and is considered experimental by the Atlantic Flyway Council and US Fish and Wildlife Service.  After the 3-year period, an evaluation will be conducted to determine if the Coastal Zone season remains within the criteria for Resident Population Zones.  Leg band recovery data from both New Jersey’s North and South Zones suggest that these zones hold significant numbers of AP geese during fall and winter and greatly exceed the criteria for Resident Population Zones.

The Special Winter Canada Goose Season will be held January 25 to February 15, 2016 in two zones with the same hunt area boundaries as last year and a bag limit of 5 Canada geese per day.  This special season is held in areas of the state that have a relatively low proportion of AP Canada geese during late winter.  The determination of AP Canada goose abundance is based on leg band recovery data as well as information from previous neck band and satellite telemetry studies.
Resident Population (RP) Canada geese are overabundant throughout most of the United States and cause significant damage problems. As a result, additional hunting methods including the use of electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, extended hunting hours, and liberal bag limits are allowed during September hunting seasons. September seasons target RP geese since Atlantic Population or migrant geese do not arrive in New Jersey until October. Hunters need to remember that these special regulations only apply to the September Canada goose season (September 1-30, 2015).  Hunters that choose to use unplugged guns during the September Canada goose season are reminded to reinstall magazine plugs before pursuing other game species.
 
Since Atlantic brant breed in remote wilderness of the Canadian Arctic, their status is measured during January surveys on their Atlantic Flyway coastal wintering grounds. Other factors including young production during recent years and food supply (sea lettuce and eelgrass) are also considered when determining the current year’s hunting regulation.  The 2015 Mid-Winter Survey estimate was 111,400 birds but brant have also experienced poor young production (less than 10% young in fall flight) during the past three years.  This is the first time in 38 years of surveys where young production was less than 10% for three consecutive years.  Reports of breeding ground conditions for 2015 are still sketchy at this point in time but young production is also expected to be below average this year.  As a result of these indices of below average population status, the 2015 brant season will remain at 30 days but the bag limit was reduced to 1 bird.  Hunters are reminded to check the season dates carefully and note the time periods during the 60-day duck season when the 30-day brant season is closed.

Greater and lesser snow geese as well as Ross's geese are collectively referred to as "light" geese.  Light goose populations remain high and biologists are concerned about the impacts light geese have on fragile Arctic nesting habitats. Serious damage to Arctic wetlands has already been documented in several key light goose breeding colonies. This damage impacts the light geese themselves, as well as other wildlife dependent on the Arctic ecosystem.  Serious damage to agriculture also occurs in migration and wintering areas. Due to this overabundance, the Service will again authorize implementation of a Conservation Order (CO).  A CO is a special management action, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that is needed to control certain wildlife populations when traditional management programs are unsuccessful in preventing overabundance of that population. The CO allows an extended time period outside of traditional hunting seasons as well as additional methods for taking light geese without bag limits.  The intent of the CO is to reduce and/or stabilize North American light goose populations that are above population objectives.
 
In the Atlantic Flyway, greater snow geese are the most abundant light goose population.  The 2015 spring estimate was 818,000 birds which is 63% above the population objective of 500,000 birds. During the past 10 years however, this population has shown a stable trend suggesting that liberal and special regulations may have stemmed the aggressive population growth that was occurring during the 1990s.  Due to the current large population size, the hunting season length for light geese will be the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (107 days) with liberal bag limits of 25 light geese per day with no possession limit. In addition, a CO will be implemented in the spring of 2016 from February 16 to April 9.  During the CO, special regulations will be allowed including the use of electronic calls, shotguns capable of holding up to 7 shells, extended shooting hours, and no bag limits.  Hunters interested in participating in the CO should check the migratory bird regulations and/or the Division’s web site for more details on obtaining required permits and hunting activity reporting requirements. 
Since 1997, the US Fish and Wildlife Service have allowed states to hold Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days on non-school days when youth hunters would have an opportunity to participate.  Youth Days are held when waterfowl seasons are closed to the general hunting public.  The objective of Youth Days is to introduce young hunters to the concepts of ethical use and stewardship of waterfowl, encourage youngsters and adults to experience the outdoors together, and to contribute to the long-term conservation of the migratory bird resource. Youth Days are a unique educational opportunity, above and beyond the regular season, which helps ensure high-quality learning experiences for youth interested in hunting. New Jersey Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days will be October 3 and October 31 in the North Zone; October 10 and November 7 in the South Zone and November 7 and February 13 in the Coastal Zone.  Note that the second Youth Day in the Coastal Zone will occur after the regular duck season closes and will allow youth a unique opportunity to hunt during the height of winter.  In addition, this late date conflicts with fewer other hunting opportunities such as the opening of pheasant season or other youth hunting days.
The 2015-16 Migratory Bird Regulations publication was prepared and posted on the Division’s web site and sent to the DEP Print Shop.  The regulations will be available at Division offices, license agents, sporting goods stores in late summer.
Waterfowl Monitoring Programs (Job IV-A)

Preseason Duck Banding
Preseason duck banding operations began.  Emphasis has been placed on mallards, as banding data is important to the development and continued use of eastern mallard population models in the Atlantic Flyway.  Banding will continue until September 30. 

On a related topic, high pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) surveillance began in coordination with the USDA-Wildlife Services.  Nearly all of the HPAI surveillance will involve dabbling ducks and most of the surveillance will “piggy-back” on existing monitoring programs such as banding.   Cooperative agreements and grant documents with USDA-Wildlife Services were prepared.

Light Goose Conservation Order
Ted Nichols designed and sent permits, hunter information leaflets, and the online harvest survey for 2016 to Barb Stoff in the Licensing section.  The complexity of the harvest survey was greatly reduced since the US Fish and Wildlife Service no longer requires states to estimate the number of birds taken using special regulations (eg: extended shooting hours, electronic calls, unplugged guns).

Waterfowl Ecology and Management (Job IV-B)

Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada Goose Population Model
The following manuscript (with abstract) was published in a peer-refereed journal:
 
Beston, J.A., C.K. Williams, T.C. Nichols, and P.M. Castelli.  2015.  Survival and harvest of Atlantic  Flyway Resident Population Canada geese. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 

ABSTRACT Resident Population Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are a valuable natural resource, but at high densities they create problems by colliding with vehicles, damaging crops, and fouling parks with feces. Effective management of these geese could be improved with knowledge of demographic rates, especially survival. We used band recovery data from 2005 to 2012 to estimate temporally and spatially explicit survival and recovery rates of Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada geese. We analyzed the data in Program MARK and found evidence that survival and recovery varied by age, state of banding, and year. We present state–age–year survival, recovery, and harvest rates from all states. Model-averaged estimates of adult survival ranged from 0.62 to 0.87 and had high precision for most states. Estimates of survival of juvenile geese were generally higher than those for adult geese, but they were less precise and more variable among states. Based on estimates of survival and recovery rates, the average annual harvest rate of adult geese was 13.5% and ranged from 3.1% in North Carolina to 20.1% in Pennsylvania, USA. Harvest rates of juvenile geese were not significantly different from those of adult geese and averaged 15.3%. The estimated survival and harvest rates can be incorporated into population models to assess potential effectiveness of various management strategies for Resident Population Canada geese.

Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey
The following manuscript (with abstract) was published in a peer-refereed journal:

Nichols, T.C. and O.E. Jones.  2015.  Population trends of breeding waterfowl in New Jersey, 1993-2012.  Bulletin of the New Jersey Academy of Science.  60(1):7-13.

ABSTRACT:  We used linear regression to analyze population trends that were collected during the Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey for key waterfowl species that breed in New Jersey.  The population trend for indicated breeding pairs of mallards (Anas platyrhnchos) and American black ducks (A. rubripes) declined, while the trend for
wood ducks (Aix sponsa) increased.  Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada geese (Branta canadensis) exhibited no trend.  Population trends for these species at the whole Atlantic Flyway Breeding Waterfowl Survey scale were similar to those observed in New Jersey.  A potentially important role of salt hay farms in the ecology of breeding black ducks in Delaware Bay marshes may have been overlooked in the past.  However, since New Jersey is more important as a wintering than breeding area for black ducks, restored functionality of these marshes should benefit the black duck population as a whole.

Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada Goose Nest Ecology
The second revision of a manuscript entitled, “Factors Influencing Nest Survival of Atlantic Flyway Resident Population Canada Geese in New Jersey” was submitted to the Journal of Wildlife Management for consideration for publication. Former University of Delaware (UD) graduate student Kate Guerena is senior author.  Other authors include Paul Castelli (Retired, NJDFW; now at Forsythe NWR), T. Nichols, and Dr. Chris Williams (UD).

Atlantic Flyway Council Technical Section Assignments (Job IV-C)

T. Nichols spent considerable time planning for the meetings of the Black Duck Joint Venture Technical Committee, Management Board, and Adaptive Harvest Management Working Group which will be hosted in New Jersey November 2-5, 2015.

T. Nichols coordinated responses for NJDFW from ENSP and BLM on an Atlantic Coast Joint Venture survey on saltmarsh conservation implementation and habitat delivery.

Integrated Canada goose damage management program – Maurice River

T. Nichols worked with USDA-WS and funding partner Partners for Wildlife Volunteerism Inc, to extend the existing agreement to cover all work on these marshes through 2017.

Extension Services

T. Nichols prepared several materials for publication, internal distribution, and the division web site:

1.   The 2015-16 Migratory Bird Regulations
2.   2015 migratory bird status and 2015-16 migratory bird season dates in New Jersey.
3.   2015-16 Law Enforcement briefing paper for NJ CO’s.
4.   The late season selection documents for migratory bird hunting and falconry were prepared and sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

T. Nichols provided migratory game bird identification, ecology and management training to the new class of CO recruits.

Regards
John