Participation in the Light Goose Conservation Order and effects on behavior and distribution of waterfowl in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska
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When the Light Goose Conservation Order (LGCO) was initiated there was considerable concern about potential for hunting to negatively impact non-target waterfowl species in the Rainwater Basin (RWB) of Nebraska. We evaluated the effects of hunting in regards to special regulations (hunting allowed four days a week, 16 wetlands closed to hunting) for non-target waterfowl by observing paired wetlands open and closed to hunting (hunting category) at which we quantified waterfowl abundance and behavior in 2011 and 2012. In spring 2012 we conducted a mail survey to evaluate factors influencing hunter participation and satisfaction with LGCO regulations. We detected greater densities of dabbling ducks (Anas spp.) on wetlands closed to the LGCO. Additionally, we counted very few white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) and hunting category was not a predictor for their presence. We documented reduced foraging time for dabbling ducks as the results hunting disturbance during one year of our study. Behaviors of white-fronted geese were not affected by hunting disturbance. We found no effects of hunt day in our analyses of dabbling duck densities or behaviors and all measured variables were similar regardless if the day was open or closed to hunting. The majority of hunters in our mail survey indicated they would prefer a hunting season which was open seven days a week, but with more public wetlands closed to hunting. Given we found no effects of hunt day in our study, we suggest a season open seven days a week will have minimal additional impacts to non-target species, satisfy more hunters, and aid in the reduction of light goose populations.