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Duck Hunting Returns to Popular Missouri Refuge

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Duck Hunting Returns to Popular Missouri Refuge

Posted 2023-09-07  by  Brian Lovett

Delta Waterfowl helps restore opportunities for 2023 season

Image: ImageBy_TSpider_mallards_flock

Swan Lake National Refuge has been a go-to hunting spot for years. That will continue this fall. Photo by TSpider

Hunting at Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri is back on, just in time for the 2023 season.

In what Delta Waterfowl called a “big win,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reversed its June 6 decision to suspend the waterfowl hunting program for the upcoming season at the 10,795-acre refuge. About 85% of the units that were open to duck and goose hunting previously will allow hunting in 2023-24. Swan Lake typically sees about 1,500 hunt visits per season.

“We always wanted to have waterfowl hunting this season at Swan Lake if at all possible,” Jason Wilson, project leader for the Big Muddy National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Swan Lake, said in a Delta Waterfowl press release. “It’s a big win for everybody, and we’re glad to be able to make it happen.”

Three of the refuge’s 20 units will remain closed for rehabilitation work, including tree and brush removal. Also, the refuge will no longer backfill units for no-show hunters, and check-ins, check-outs, and hunt draws will be done online.

Through Delta Waterfowl’s Defending the Hunt program, local chapter members can alert the organization about threats to hunting access and opportunities. Cyrus Baird, senior director of government affairs for Delta, said at least 15 people notified the group about the Swan Lake closure, which was enacted because of staffing shortages and workload demand.

The release said that Baird and Delta Waterfowl regional director Garrett Trentham worked toward restoring the hunt for this season. The group contacted refuge managers, USFWS directors, and Missouri Deptartment of Conservation staff to propose solutions to allow waterfowl hunting access this season and beyond at Swan Lake while reducing strain on USFWS staff.

In a June 22 letter to Chuck Traxler, USFWS acting regional director, Delta Waterfowl said, “We recognize and appreciate the staffing shortages that face the USFWS as a whole, and the National Wildlife Refuge System in particular. This is an issue that Delta Waterfowl and a number of our partners have been working to address. Ensuring the service has the capacity it needs to not only carry out their habitat management objectives but to ensure situations like this don’t happen in other places is a top priority.”

In June, Steve Whitson, manager at Swan Lake, said the refuge would be down to one full-time staff member by mid-July.

“In addition, we have some very large projects going on and [are] just having to downsize to make things manageable,” he said at the time. “Due to staffing shortages, we have cut back the bulk of our visitor services activities for the past five to six years, so the waterfowl hunting is one of the last to go.”

Swan Lake was established in 1937 in Chariton County, Missouri, near the confluence of the Grand and Missouri rivers. The refuge focuses on wetland habitat management and is also managed for other migratory birds, including ducks, geese, shorebirds, and neotropical birds.

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