Throughout the fall season, and honestly in about any discussion on the future of hunting, habitat and wildlife populations, you’ll read, see and hear discussion on the loss of habitat.
Thankfully for now in North Dakota, only a small part of that is linked to aquatic nuisance species and the role they can play in degrading otherwise ideal waterfowl habitat.
When it comes to waterfowl hunting, the most immediate influencer, what we might call the “X” factor, is the weather. Even in years like 2014, when Game and Fish biologists are predicting one of the highest fall flights from North Dakota in more than 60 years, an early fall snowstorm and accompanying freeze-up can crush the short-term hopes of duck and goose hunters.
In the long term, we can help maintain current duck and goose populations by conserving grassland and wetland habitat, and a viable part of that is keeping aquatic nuisance species out of North Dakota, whether they’d be in a favorite duck hunting marsh or popular fishing lake.
The Game and Fish Department addresses ANS frequently throughout the spring and summer, but it’s not just a summer fishing and boating issue. It’s a concern 24/7/365 no matter what activity is taking place in or on the water.
All boaters and water recreators must understand that in North Dakota and other states, it is now illegal to transport aquatic vegetation or lake water from one location to another.
So for waterfowlers, whether you’re hunting via boat or lugging a sack of decoys into a slough, here’s a rundown of the ANS regulations as they apply to hunting in North Dakota.
Remove all aquatic vegetation at the site. Period. Most people have no problem recognizing the “seaweed” on duck boat trailers or engine propellers, but all aquatic vegetation must be taken off before leaving. That includes decoy weights and strings that can easily transport a threat, and waders that might be carrying plant fragments.
This rule does not include emergent (above water) vegetation like cattails and bulrushes used for making hunting blinds.
Drain water from all places. This is not just for boat users. It could be a floating decoy with a hole in it, literally anything holding water – the bottom of the boat, the decoy bag, and if you fall in with your waders on, empty those out too.
We want to leave a hunting heritage, not a memory of what hunting once was. A lot of that is maintaining grassland and wetland habitat on the landscape, but habitat in the water is also important.
Fred Ryckman, Game and Fish ANS coordinator, says that fall is also a good time to look for possible zebra mussels when taking out docks and closing up lake places. Zebra mussels will attach to hard surfaces, such as fishing piers, boat dock and lifts. Inspecting these structures when pulled from the water is important to determine if mussels are present.
To date, adult zebra mussels have not been found in any North Dakota waters.
If mussels are found, citizens are requested to leave the suspicious mussel attached, take a digital picture, and report findings immediately to a local Game and Fish Department district office.
Aquatic nuisance species prevention is a year-round challenge that we all – hunters, anglers and boaters alike – need to take seriously if we want to keep these threats from spreading in North Dakota waters.