The persisting drought in the Northwest is severely cutting duck populations, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official predicts hunting restrictions this fall.
"It looks like we're probably going to have one of our worst breeding populations since the 1930s," Jim Bartonek, the service's Pacific Flyway representative, said.Bartonek projected the pintail duck population will reach an all-time low of 2.6 million, down from the previous low of 2.9 million, and in Alberta, Canada, the starting point for many of Idaho's migrating ducks, the population is expected to decline from 4.9 million to 2.8 million.
Declining water levels in wetlands have made waterfowl nests more vulnerable to predators and forced birds to nest in unsatisfactory habitats, said Terry Gladwin, an Idaho wildlife refuge manager.
"The breeding success is lower," he said, and, "fewer nests mean fewer eggs and fewer ducklings."
Bartonek said agriculture has also aggravated the problem because "farmers have been able to get equipment into areas that had been wetlands and plowed them up.
"I'm not blaming the Canadian or American farmer," he said. "It's just a part of business."
The drought could also have an impact on Idaho's big game herds, but the result will probably favor hunters, at least for the coming season.
State Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Jay Crenshaw said deer, elk and antelope have become hardy enough to tolerate another water-short summer. But the drought will leave big game without ample food this winter, and that has wildlife officials worried about starvation.
Crenshaw said the state will likely increase the big-game harvest this fall to avoid severe winter kill.