October marks the start of waterfowl hunting, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is reminding waterfowl hunters in Western New York that extreme drought conditions have dropped water levels in most wetlands and dried some completely. As a result, waterfowl hunters scouting potential hunting sites could encounter difficulty this season.
DEC Region 8 is home to the state's best waterfowl hunting areas in the managed marshes at Iroquois and Montezuma national wildlife refuges and Northern Montezuma, Oak Orchard and Tonawanda wildlife management areas (WMA). All of these areas have been impacted by the lack of rainfall.
The drought that began in late spring caused water levels in most wetlands to drop substantially and, in some cases, to dry up completely. Soils exposed by low water levels have resulted in thick vegetation growth in marsh areas. 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 several to drop below normal levels. Water levels are expected to be well below normal for much of the waterfowl season.
Food for ducks in these areas exists in the form of seeds from moist soil annual plants in the WMA wetlands, but in many cases more water is needed to shallowly reflood these areas to make the food accessible to ducks. However, there are some excellent shallow water marsh areas on the WMAs with abundant food resources providing excellent habitat for ducks.
One of the drought's most significant impacts will be to hunters who usually access the marshes by boat. 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 more difficult to find downed birds.
Due to the lack of water and the growth of thick vegetation, DEC reduced the numbers of permits issued to hunt waterfowl each day of the opening weekend of duck season by 40 percent at both Tonawanda WMA (Niagara, Genesee and Orleans counties) and Oak Orchard WMA (Genesee and Orleans counties).
The situation is similar in Wayne County at Northern Montezuma Wildlife Management Area, where some impoundments dropped significantly and others 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. About half of the 42 managed marshes have water levels suitable for hunting waterfowl and, in all sites, the production of seed-bearing annual plants is exceptional.
In Livingston County, Conesus Inlet WMA water levels are lower than normal, but none of the impoundments went dry. Depending on rainfall leading up to the season opener, canoe access in the main impoundment may be more difficult due to lower water levels.
Waterfowl hunters who plan on hunting either Iroquois or Montezuma national wildlife refuges should review websites or contact managers of these locations directly to learn about the effects of the drought on their hunt management plans.