Waterfowl season comes to a close

Good hunting reported in Mendenhall Wetlands; changes in store

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2006

Will Geiger and about 500 others hunted waterfowl in the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge this season. It ended Dec. 16 with a bang.

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Make that several bangs.

"The last few days were good because there were so many geese," said Geiger, who did virtually all of his hunting on the refuge and said he had a good season overall.

He got his first goose last season, this year he brought home four.

In addition to geese, he took a mix of ducks including mallards, blue and green wing teal, shovelers, widgeon, scaup, bufflehead, one goldeneye and some harlequins.

"We saw a lot of swans this year, and cranes and snow geese," he said.

Geiger enjoys seeing other birds on the refuge, although there are some exceptions. Early in the season he dropped a teal, only to have a bald eagle swoop in and snatch it up before his dog could retrieve it.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued 524 permits to hunt the refuge this year.

Permits have been required since 2003. They're free, but hunters are required to read materials and demonstrate an understanding of the wetlands, a multi-use recreation area within the city limits.

Issues include private property bordering the wetlands, hunter safety and responsibility, and the changing nature of the wetlands ecosystem.

In conjunction with the Juneau Gun Club, the department also offers a one-day refuge hunting workshop addressing these and other general waterfowl and shotgunning skills before the season opens in September.

Waterfowl hunting is the only form of hunting allowed on the refuge.

A permitted hunter must follow up the season by sending in a brief refuge permit report, short answers to eight questions about the hunter's use of the wetlands.

This helps the department assess how much use the refuge gets from waterfowl hunters, where most of hunting takes place and where hunters access the refuge.

The reports are due Dec. 31, and failure to report means the hunter forfeits hunting opportunities on the refuge the following year.

"The permit helps us to keep track of how waterfowl hunters are using the refuge, and we get a snapshot of number of birds being harvested," said wildlife biologist Ryan Scott, who helps manage the refuge for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Most hunters reach the wetlands via the Airport Dike trail, which also sees considerable use from dog walkers and nonhunters. It is also the area that generates the fewest complaints about hunters.

A handful of complaints came from the Mendenhall Peninsula area, but overall, conflicts are way down this year, Scott said.

"This really reflects well on waterfowl hunters," Scott said. "This indicates people were cognizant of what they were doing and pursuing safe and ethical hunting practices out there. It was really nice."

Geiger uses the Airport Dike trail to access the areas he hunts near the river and the tidal areas, and said he had no conflicts at all with nonhunters.

"I talk to people on the trail," he said. "Bird watchers have been cool, they want to see my ducks close up."

There will be some changes for hunters on the wetlands next year, Scott said. The Board of Game instituted a zoning regulation for the refuge.

Although the details are still being finalized, this has given the department greater latitude to manage the area. Potential biological issues or user conflicts can be addressed in specific areas without impacting hunting opportunities in other areas.

"The refuge has been divided into unique management zones, about 10," Scott said.

"That will allow us to address concerns and issues in small geographic areas on the refuge. For example, if we consistently got complaints that we could validate from one area on the refuge, and were unable to resolve the issue, we could potentially close that area of the refuge until we're able to address the problem, then reopen it."

Another change ahead is that by Sept. 1, 2008, every person who hunts on the refuge will have to either complete a hunter education course in Alaska or demonstrate completion of a course outside Alaska.

"This applies to everyone, no one will be grandfathered in," Scott said. "The hunter education course takes about two days, and is offered almost monthly in Juneau."

The new Juneau area hunter education schedule is now available online at http://www.wildlife.alaska.gov/ or by calling the Juneau Hunter Education Facility at 586-4101.

• Riley Woodford is a writer for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation. He watches wildlife, catches fish and hunts waterfowl on the Mendenhall wetlands.

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