DFW statewide spring waterfowl survey shows slight decline in total numbers



The 2019 spring waterfowl breeding survey done each year in the state by the Department of Fish and Wildlife staff in late April and early May, and it turned up some mildly alarming results, at least according to the DFW:

The statewide resident breeding waterfowl (duck and goose) population has declined even after dramatic increases in rainfall, and supposedly better habitat, the past several years. Overall, the breeding population dropped 14 percent from last year, falling from a total of 549 million ducks in 2018 to 397 million in 2019.

This is also 14 percent below the long-term average since 1992, when the survey methods became standardized. (Gasp for affect.)

The report summary lamented, “Waterfowl populations in the Central Valley continue to show little improvement despite normal precipitation compared to the long-term average.”

What is not mentioned anywhere in the news release is that last year’s numbers were the highest since 2011, largely thanks to the big winter-spring rains the previous year that led to greater local production and the bigger numbers reported.

The report also mentioned the vast amount of rainfall this year. Implying the potential for better habitat and production. But nowhere in the survey methods can the DFW estimate the increased number of birds nesting on wetlands outside their standardized survey areas. A lot of birds nested this year on places that didn’t exist last year (Mystic Lake near Lake Perris is a good example). They also can’t estimate the number of birds the improved habitat might have enticed from other areas. So they can’t estimate the number of birds that didn’t get counted.

The DFW survey data is fine for long-term estimates, and short term increases in bird numbers (both from birds not counted and better production this year) will show next year when surviving birds again return to next on California wetlands. So it will all shake out in the marshes and it will show in the long-term results.

The tone of the report and press materials provided by the DFW is doom and gloom. In fact, if you throw out four unusual bird number years (1996 through 1999), overall duck numbers this year would be very close to the norm over the past 27 years.

Could the state’s waterfowl numbers be higher? Absolutely. Historically, most of the Central Valley, Southern California’s inland valleys, even the Eastern Sierra valleys and coastline contained massive wetlands that simply don’t exist today, most because of man’s farming, urban, water use practices. But without a massive human depopulation of the state, we have about as much wetland as we will have into the foreseeable future. However, across North America, waterfowl numbers are at historical recorded highs – and a lot of those birds winter on California’s remaining, well-managed wetlands.

Why can’t the DFW point that out?

And maybe point out something else a lot of people don’t know. It is still the money from hunter’s license, duck stamps, daily and seasonal use permits, and federal excise taxes on guns and ammunition that continues to fund that protection of wetlands – not the state’s general fund. Waterfowl are one of this nation’s greatest conservation and environmental success stories, with populations going from what would be called “threatened” or even “endangered” by today’s designations, to becoming “common” or “abundant” again. That recovery is because of hunters’ interest and money.

[If you’d like to read the full DFW’s Breeding Population Survey Report, go to this link on the DFW’s website: www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/birds/waterfowl.]

DFW stocks more than 1.45 million

salmon in unknown inland waters

The DFW’s “take” on much of the work it does is apparently a mystery to the brass in Sacramento.

It’s almost as though they are confused about the fact that a lot of the work done by the DFW’s rank and file is done for the direct benefit of fishermen and hunters, the people who still largely fund all the DFW programs.

As an example, there was a press release in the past week or so about the DFW’s monumental effort at rearing and stocking of 1.45 million kokanee and landlocked chinook salmon in inland waters for anglers, and bragging that more “sterile” chinook were coming through the state’s hatcheries for planting in Lake Oroville, Lake Shasta, and Trinity Lake this fall. (The fish have to be triploid or sterile for planting in these three lakes since watersheds drain into the Pacific, and the DFW doesn’t want to take any chances that non-sterile fish might get below the dams and pollute the native gene pool, which it didn’t do until the courts mandated that effort. That is a different story.)

Spoiler alert on the planted fingerlings: The rest of the press release won’t tell us where most of the 1.45 million salmon have been planted this year. It is apparently a secret.

The DFW “news” release did say this: “The two- to four-inch fish are stocked into landlocked, inland waters to provide a diverse fishing experience where natural reproduction is insufficient to provide a high-quality angling experience. Anglers can expect excellent opportunities in these waters in two to three years when these fingerlings reach catchable size. Stocking fingerling-sized fish is a very cost-effective way to maintain these popular, inland recreational fisheries.”

But which waters? (Say that out loud while waving your hands.)

Some of us might want to put those lakes on our “Places to Vacation” plans in the future, or maybe this year. Is the stocking part of an ongoing stocking program of chinooks or kokanees that we might not know about? Were these same waters planted last year with salmon, and the two or three years before, too? Apparently that information is secret.

The press release went on the brag about the record number of kokanee eggs collected and reared, told of surplus fish released in Lake Shasta, and did a little life history on the kokanee (they are landlocked sockeye salmon). They announced they did a great marking and evaluation program on 2018 kokanee stockings in Stampede Reservoir (but didn’t’ say that lake was getting fish this year), and that some of the 2019 kokanees were marked and released into New Melones Reservoir.

Finally!. The DFW told us about one of the waters getting fingerling salmon this year. One!

Search the website, call local offices of the DFW, good luck finding out where else the kokanee and chinook were planted. It is a secret.

(If you want to read the press release for yourself, or loads of other press releases that never seem to give you all the information you’d like, go to the DFW’s “news” page on its website at this link: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/News.)

U.S. Forest Service closes popular area

around waterfall because of stupid people

The San Bernardino National Forest management staff closed the area around the region’s tallest waterfalls, Big Falls near Wrightwood, because of stupid people. Their announcement of the closure didn’t say that exactly, but it was implied.

Done just in time before the July 4 holiday weekend when stupid people are out in force, the Big Falls Trail (1E13) to the waterfall overlook remains open, but areas beyond the railing was “closed due to safety).”

"There have been too many search and rescues in this area in the past," said Joe Rechsteiner, the district ranger for the Front Country Ranger District, in the press release. "We want to make sure the public enjoys this beautiful spot while staying safe. Some of rocks in Falls Creek are deceivingly slippery."

Apparently is it unknown to many that wet, water-smoothed rocks can be slippery, deceivingly so.

The news snipped went on to point out that search and rescues by “San Bernardino County Fire and sheriff's deputies are sometimes so frequent in this area that one rock in particular is known to locals as ‘Blood Rock.’ A slip on it has sent multiple people tumbling down the middle fall, often prompting injury and rescue by helicopter.”

Oh sure, close the spot, and then tell about the cool stuff people will want to go see there: “Hey Bob, let’s go hike up to “Blood Rock” this weekend. Maybe we can find some skull pieces.”

The closure will last until next year this time, unless rescinded earlier for some unknown reason, perhaps a sudden end to idiocy.

If you are confused about whether to be annoyed with the U.S. Forest Service trying to somehow fix stupidity by closing an area, or with the stupid people who get themselves into situations where they add genetic material to Blood Rock, join the club. My vote is to be mad at the Forest Service nannies.

What’s next, will the U.S. Forest Service close all Wilderness Areas because some people go in unprepared and end up getting hurt, lost, or dying. Will all public access be denied during “Fire Season” because some people with IQs lower than a hubcap start fires that burn thousands of acres. We’re not far from that now. So, the questions is, “What’s next?”

[For more information on this closure, go to the San Bernardino National Forest's website and this link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/sbnf/news-events/?cid=FSEPRD641400.]


Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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