Safe waterfowl hunting on the Mendenhall wetlands

Posted: Sunday, August 20, 2006

Wildlife biologist Ryan Scott grew up in Juneau hunting on the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. He stills hunts the wetlands, but these days he spends far more time on the refuge as one of the managers of the area for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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With waterfowl hunting season fast approaching, Scott has been busy making sure that hunters who plan to use the refuge are safe and well-informed. All hunters must receive a permit from Fish and Game before hunting on the refuge. Issuing the permit gives wildlife managers the opportunity to inform hunters about the responsibilities that come with hunting in an urban setting.

Waterfowl hunting season opens at 5:28 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 1.

Scott said early in the season hunters target resident mallards and teal.

"As the season progresses, October to freeze-up, we'll get the migrants coming through, ducks and geese," he said. "There's a whole gamut, green-wing teal, mallards pintails, shovelers and a host of sea ducks."

The 3,800-acre refuge, adjacent to the Juneau International Airport and surrounded by the city of Juneau, is shared by hunters, dog walkers, wildlife viewers and anglers. The refuge was established in 1976 with hunting as one of the priority uses. Over the years, more homes have been built on land bordering the refuge. To complicate matters, land in the Juneau area is rising, and that's affected property boundaries and altered the habitat on the refuge. It's also led to some conflicts.

"We need to be sure people are practicing safe hunting," Scott said. "We get several reports per year of homes being pelleted, and some reports of trespassing. There are plots out there that are no longer public land. Some are marked by the owner, others aren't. You have to be careful what you're doing and where you are at."

Only waterfowl hunting is permitted on the refuge. There is no big game hunting, no trapping and no small game hunting. Hunters pursuing waterfowl use shotguns, not rifles. Unlike rifles, which can fire a bullet a distance of a mile, a shotgun fires a cloud of small round pellets just a few hundred yards. But with homes adjacent to the refuge, managers want to be sure hunters know the boundaries.

After hunters are informed about refuge boundaries and other pertinent information, they are issued a permit that allows them to hunt the area. Refuge permits are available at the Fish and Game office in Douglas or online at Hunters who wish to obtain their permit online should follow the link to "obtaining registration permits." The Mendenhall permit is wu001. Information is provided regarding the refuge, followed by a short online quiz covering the topics of concern.

The refuge stretches between Douglas Island and the mainland for about nine miles, from north of the Mendenhall River to Salmon Creek. The northern region is an area of special focus, Scott said.

"People who hunt between the Mendenhall Peninsula and the west bank of the river must come into the Douglas office and receive additional educational material," he said. "We'll affix a permanent stamp to their waterfowl permit.

Scott said this fall hunters can expect to see more enforcement and the presence of more Fish and Game staff on the refuge.

"We will be sampling for avian influenza out there on the refuge in the month of September," he said. "That will involve talking to hunters and sampling hunter-killed birds."

Questions about the refuge and hunting permits can be directed to the Fish and Game office in Douglas, at 465-4265. Scott is hopeful that the extra efforts will reduce conflicts this season.

"I grew up hunting the refuge, and now I have young children I've introduced to waterfowl hunting," he said. "One of the reason I'm committing so much energy and focus to it, I want it to be there for waterfowl hunting for future generations, including my sons."

• Riley Woodford is a writer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, and is the editor of the online publication, Alaska Wildlife News. For comments or questions, he can be reached at

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