Waterfowl Alliance reviews LA hunting activity

By Jay V. Huner
Journal Corresponden

The Louisiana Waterfowl Alliance held its general fall membership meeting in Lafayette on August 15, 2015. Keynote speaker was Dr. Larry Reynolds, Waterfowl Study Leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF). Dr. Reynolds spoke about the department's survey of hunter satisfaction for the 2014-15 waterfowl season, the status of goose hunting in the state, and outlook for the coming 2015-16 season.

According to Dr. Reynolds, the reasons for the current survey were to assess satisfaction with the new three zone hunting season, obtain preferences for various goose season options; estimate hunter satisfaction; evaluate new survey methods; and increase opportunities for hunters to interact with the regulators.

The state is divided into 3 zones for regulating hunting with a coastal zone, a west zone and an east zone. There was less than 15% dissatisfaction with the zones. The development of the three zones was a method to provide hunters with flexibility in terms of when and where to hunt because the seasons start and end at different times. However, 80% hunt in only one zone, 15% hunt in two zones, and only 1% hunt in three zones.

Goose hunting is declining in Louisiana according to the survey. Only 20% of the hunters hunted geese. Greater White-fronted Geese (speckle-bellies) and light geese (primarily Snow Geese) are hunted with speckle-bellies being the preferred quarry. Numbers of speckle-bellies have been stagnant over the past 20 years despite a significant increase in numbers farther north in the Mississippi Flyway. As a result, there has been concern about an increase in the numbers taken that could impact numbers coming into Louisiana. However, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission sets seasons and has added 8 days to the speckle-belly season. This will translate into a 10% increase in harvest. The numbers of light geese have declined dramatically in Louisiana in recent years, perhaps accounting for reduction in numbers of goose hunters.

In general, hunters expressed general satisfaction with the 2014-15 season with only 22% being dissatisfied. This compared to the 2005 survey where, during a period of poor hunting, 80% of respondents were dissatisfied.

Average age of hunters was 44 and they hunted approximately 17 days a season, harvesting 3.4 ducks per day. Fewer than 3 % of the hunters were female. Hunters were more concerned about the opportunity to hunt than limiting out on each hunt.

Dr. Reynolds explained that the gold standard of surveys is the totally random survey. The department's budget for waterfowl surveys is $85,000. LDWF identified 95,000 waterfowl hunters and selected 2,500 individuals at random who were sent surveys and contacted 5 times by mail to respond. Only 24% responded at a cost of $80 each. A mixed mode survey involved contacting 2,500 individuals by e-mail with follow up mailings including a paper copy of the survey. Response was 17 %. An e-mail survey involved contacting 29,842 individuals strictly by e-mail with 20% responses. Finally, an open web survey involved using media to encourage individuals to go to the LDWF website and complete the survey with 1,408 individuals responding. Such responses are skewed because those who respond usually have biased motivations for taking the survey.

The bottom line was that there was little difference in responses between the expensive totally random survey and the very low cost e-mail survey. This is an important consideration in times of financial problems. And, it certainly increases the ability to interact with hunters.

Of interest to hunters will be meetings to be held in September and October in Lake Charles, Lafayette, New Orleans, Alexandria, Monroe, and Bossier City about the current hunting zone set up. Changes will be reviewed for possible changes by the LWFC later in the fall. There is concern about moving the west zone south to LA 14 to put the rice producing area in SW Louisiana into the West Zone to permit later start of the first season split. Hunting is limited there by the harvesting of second crop rice into November. There is also a possibility of setting up separate North and South zones for goose hunting.

In conclusion, Dr. Reynolds explained that there were two important considerations in setting season dates. He wants to have the maximum number of weekends during the 60 days allowed for hunting. He wants to insure that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year holidays are included. This maximizes hunting opportunities for families. Dr. Reynolds anticipates a good fall flight of ducks but the percentage of young, native birds will be down because earlier spring/summer breeding conditions were not up to par. And, state hunters will enjoy another 60 day season with 6 duck daily limit for the 20th consecutive year.

Waterfowl season dates for the 2015-16 season, information about public meetings and Dr. Reynolds presentations can be found at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov