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Dry conditions may create challenges for waterfowl hunters

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In spite of abnormally wet conditions earlier this year, waterfowl hunters may find access to lakes and wetlands challenging in some areas this fall.

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"Some hunters may be surprised by water levels, especially at the very shallow sites," said Ken Varland, area wildlife supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "Some wetlands are significantly lower than they were at this time last year."

With above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation over the past couple of months, the water evaporates quickly, Varland said.

Wet and dry cycles are a natural part of healthy wetlands. Low water levels during the growing season allow germination of emergent vegetation such as cattails and bulrushes. These plants filter nutrients and create a healthy balance in the wetlands, which provides food and protective cover for waterfowl and other species of wildlife.

"Wetlands will naturally fill as we get rain," Varland said. "But without precipitation, access by boat will become increasingly more difficult on some wetlands through the fall."

Hunters who make the extra effort to access wetlands may be rewarded, though. According to the annual DNR spring waterfowl survey, the state's breeding population of mallards is estimated to be 17 percent higher than last year. The combined population of ducks such as wood ducks, ring-necked ducks, gadwalls, northern shovelers, canvasbacks and redheads is estimated to be 22 percent higher than in 2010.

"This year it is especially important to get out before the opener and do some scouting," Varland said. "It could make the difference between a disappointing waterfowl opener and a successful one."

More information about waterfowl hunting is available at the DNR's website.

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