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For Release: Friday, October 26, 2012

Low Water Levels Could Affect Waterfowl Hunting

Western New York waterfowl hunting season opening Saturday, October 27, will likely be affected by the widespread reduced precipitation from last summer's hot and dry weather, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. These conditions caused water levels to drop substantially in many wetlands and dried up other wetland areas. Recent rains have improved conditions; however water levels remain lower than normal. It is important for waterfowl hunters to scout potential hunting sites when making plans.

DEC Region 8 contains the state's premiere waterfowl hunting areas in the form of the managed marshes at Iroquois and Montezuma National Wildlife Refuges and Northern Montezuma, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). The dry wetland conditions are particularly pronounced at the Iroquois WMA. In addition to some intentional drawdowns of impoundments to stimulate the growth of seed-producing annual plants preferred by waterfowl, the drought caused some additional units to go dry and the remainder to drop well below normal levels. The lack of rain also meant that there was no moving water to reflood the intentionally drained units. Several units are still mostly dry and all are below normal; many are one foot lower than usual. The number of permits issued was reduced by 20 percent for opening weekend at Tonawanda WMA due to lack of water in some impoundments.

The situation is less severe at Northern Montezuma WMA, where some wetland units dropped water levels significantly, but none went completely dry. Water levels in the Seneca River, Barge Canal and Crusoe Creek are lower than normal, but will support waterfowl and public access. Half of the managed marshes contain water levels suitable for hunting waterfowl, and in all sites, the production of seed-bearing annual plants is exceptional.

This year, for the first time in many years, the main impoundment at Conesus Inlet WMA was drained to regenerate the marsh vegetation. A normal year of precipitation would have made it difficult to keep the unit drained as there is a decent sized stream that flows through the marsh. The dry weather this year stopped that flow and allowed a complete drawdown. The unit is now reflooded to about half the normal depth where it will be held it until next year to allow the vegetation to fully rebound.

Overall, the waters in the marshes are more than enough to hold ducks and the extra vegetation and seeds produced due to the low waters will attract and hold birds. The biggest impact will be to hunters who usually access the marshes in boats. The low waters may make it impossible to float a boat, and will require wading to access the more remote locations. The increased vegetation may also make it a bit more difficult to find any downed birds.

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