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Waterfowlers: Update on water/hunting

Frank Galusha, My outdoor buddy, sacramento, Klamath basin refuge, North State water conditions, outdoors recreation

By Frank Galusha
11/17/13 Update-- Fall flood-up is the critical period for waterfowl in California. So far, 2013 has been one of the driest years on record. So, what are the prospects for adequate water supplies for waterfowl during the hunting season? This question was asked and answered today by CWA.

In the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, where no water at all was delivered between March and mid-September, an increasing number of units have recently been flooded, including 2,3,6a,6b1,7a,11 and the Sterns. Flooding of unit 4b has also started. One source at the Klamath Basin Refuge Complex told me water deliveries to Lower Klamath were to stop on November 1. Hunt results at Lower Klamath marshes over the past two weeks have been on the order of two birds per gun, with very few geese. Field units have produced about one goose per hunter. Results at Sump 1B have been slightly better since November 11. Rain is headed for most of Northern California as of Monday and will continue for a couple of days with a bit of wind in the forecast. Hunter success could rise significantly when these mild storms move through the region.

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Flood-up as of November 15
Lower Klamath/Tule Lake Flood-up as of November 15. Illustration courtesy of Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex Hunt Program Coordinator, Stacy Freitas

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was able to keep flooding most of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex during the federal government shutdown, citing a need to protect essential government infrastructure. However, in light of ongoing water conveyance problems, Sutter NWR is still not fully flooded, with hunter quotas low for this weekend.

I asked Mike Carpenter at the USFWS office at the Sacramento Refuge Complex what he thought. Carpenter replied, “Things are tough in the duck hunting world. No weather, highs temps, lack of local production and a full moon coming makes the conditions very tough. I'm not hearing any good reports up and down the State. I was in Idaho last weekend and couldn't believe all the gadwall. I've never seen that many gadwall in Idaho. I was jump shooting creeks and ponds (that usually have lots of mallards) and it was tough to find mallards. If you wanted gads they were everywhere. The first two weeks (other than opening weekend) down at the Suisun marsh were good, but then the bird disappeared somewhere.”

November is always tough, Carpenter added. “But this one seems especially tough. With the high temps birds don't have to feed as much and then throw in the moon and they don't have to feed at all during the day. I was just in the closed zone looking over thousands of birds and the thing that jumped out to me was the lack of movement...birds just sitting and not moving at all. A lot of people felt the lack of flooded rice would help the hunting on the refuges. Lots of fields that got flooded are drying out rapidly. It's going to be an interesting year I think. We need some weather to get some new birds heading our way.

CWA notes the State Water Resources Control Board invoked Term 91, which means that certain water rights holders may not divert water from the Sacramento River from October 30 through November 16. Term 91 does not directly affect the Sacramento NWR Refuge Complex, but may affect some duck clubs that draw water from the River. Many of those affected were able to flood up in September and October, but are not able to maintain the flooding until after November 16.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation states that it has 75 percent of the average amount of water in storage going into 2014. The Bureau has released its Water Year Plan for 2014. The Plan includes efforts to provide water for the Sutter NWR, as well as efforts to transfer Level 2 water that cannot be used on certain refuges to other refuges, including the Grasslands refuges. The Plan also includes a proposal from the Golden Gate Salmon Association to change Sacramento River flows in the fall to protect spawning salmon, which may affect the timing of deliveries for waterfowl.

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Website Design Photo Credits: thanks the following individuals for contributing photographs for use on our Home and Section pages: Anders Tomlinson of, Casey Allen of Bayside, CA; Jason Haley of Medford, OR; Steve Breth of Burney, CA; Tracy McCormack of Eureka, CA; Grant Thompson of Grand Junction, CO; Richard Bott of Shingletown, CA; Ron Loftus of Yreka, CA; Scott Caldwell of Montague, CA; Lorissa Soriano of Alturas, CA and the late Dave Menke, formerly with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

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