Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. · www.southernfocus.com
Chairman’s Message: Water is the Critical for Delta Waterfowlers
We continuously complain about not having ducks in the Mississippi Delta. And last year, was likely one of the worst. But the current duck population is higher than the North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals, and has been for the past 7 years. We do not have a shortage of ducks. We have a shortage of water and food to stop them in Mississippi.
As I put pen to paper for this article, it is the eve of the 1st Youth Day of Waterfowl Season here in Mississippi and it’s rained less than 1 inch in the past 90 days. The irony is, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks just completed their mid-November waterfowl survey and are about to report surprising high number of “early ducks” in the Delta. But where are they? They are sitting in fields and wetlands where supplemental water has been pumped….and on deep water areas including our internal oxbow lakes and those along the Mississippi River. And the Louisiana survey says there is a record number of ducks in the marsh this November, compared to recent years.
The common thread is water. Water will be the key to early success this winter for duck hunters in the Delta. And water is the key to success every winter, not just during drought years. This has become even more obvious to me as I and other Delta Wildlife leaders that have been working with the staff all spring and summer on developing an action plan for the Delta Wildlife Waterfowl Committee.
Putting more acres under water in the Delta must be a priority if this region is to continue to be a premier wintering location for migratory waterfowl. Recreational landowners who value waterfowl and duck hunting must put more focus on impounding more winter water on their property. And adequate incentives must be developed for producers to impound more cropland acres each winter. The Arkansas Delta and Prairie is beating us in this department, and it’s paying significant dividends for them as they typically attract and hold twice as many mallards as we do.
There are many ways for the Mississippi Delta to impound more water. The first step is to simply impound water on all the wetlands that have been built as waterfowl impoundments. A quick review of research and satellite imagery will show that more than 1/3 of the impoundments on WRP and CRP in the Mississippi Delta are not being flooded. Reasons for not impounding these areas vary, but it does impact the overall capacity of the region to attract and hold more ducks.
We also need to find a way to provide incentives to producers to impound more cropland. There are substantial financial risks to the producer if spring planting gets delayed. So farmers cannot be blamed for not impounding water. But if adequate incentives and flexibility were provided to flood cropland in the winter, I am quite certain we would hold much more water in the Delta and attract more ducks.
At the end of the day, the region simply needs to find a way to put more acres under water during the winter if we are to attract more ducks. If we don’t, they will simply pass over us as many have already this November.
Randy Sewall is the Chairman of the Board and the Delta Wildlife Committee on Waterfowl.