Farmington Bay » Utah waterfowl hunters will likely see more ducks during the 107-day season that opens on Oct. 3, but they may also see flames and smoke on their beloved marshes.
In a continuing effort to control the exotic and invasive phragmites plant on wetlands across Utah, state officials use a one-two punch of chemical spray and fire. The treatments are typically done in the spring, but the weather didn't cooperate and air quality regulations forced officials to wait to do the burning.
"This is a major effort to clean up phragmites. Hunters need to realize they may see a closed gate every now and then this fall," said Tom Aldrich, migratory bird coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "But it won't happen on the weekend and don't fret: It is a good thing. The duck response should be incredible once we get water back in the burned area."
Hunters may also see a number of dead ducks, at least in the first few weeks of the season. The marshes of the Great Salt Lake experienced what Aldrich called a "moderate" case of avian botulism starting in August. He estimated that as many as 50,000 waterfowl and shorebirds succumbed to the disease.
Botulism is nothing new on the marshes. The naturally occurring toxin is activated by warm temperatures and a lack of oxygen in the water. Outbreaks generally happen every August along the Great Salt Lake marshes.
"We have studied it for 60 years and we still can't predict when we will have a bad year," Aldrich said. "In the late 1990s, we had a year where we lost half a million and some years it only impacts a few thousand birds."
The annual case of botulism will fade away when the weather cools and fresh water flows through the marsh systems.
A wet spring on the Canadian prairies, and locally along the Wasatch Front, was good for ducks. Officials expect to see increased flights throughout the 2009-10 season.
"There are a lot of birds in the Intermountain West and, as a result, the regulations are more liberal," Aldrich said.
Federal and state officials are allowing a daily limit of two pintail, increased the scaup limit to three, and reopened the canvasback season.
The daily limit on ducks and mergansers for the 2009-10 season is seven (including no more than 1 canvasback, 2 hen mallards, 2 pintails, 2 redheads and 3 scaups). The possession limit is twice the daily bag limit. The daily, and possession, limit of coots is 25.
For more details on regulations pick up a copy of the 2009-2010 Waterfowl Guide from DWR license agents across the state or download a copy at http://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks" Target="_BLANK">http://wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.