REGION 8--While duck hunting season is still months away, it is very close in most hunters minds. But will there be ducks this year?
According to a study at Arkansas State University the number of ducks in this region is down 15% from 30 years ago.
ASU professor of wildlife ecology Jim Bednarz has studied the numbers and feels the problem is global warming.
"Those patterns are strongly related to changes in temperature, number of freeze days and amount of snowfall during that same period," said Bednarz.
Clay County Extension Agent Andy Vangilder is also noticing less ducks are wintering in Region 8, but he believes it's for another reason.
"The farmers and duck hunters in the northern states have learned how to keep their fields flooded and have food for the ducks and they are holding them up north a lot longer than they have in past years," said Vangilder.
Another theory on the decreasing number of ducks is the changing crop patterns. While some farmers are harvesting rice earlier than ever, others have gotten rid of rice all together for crops like corn, whose fields are less attractive to ducks. Those we spoke with felt that wasn't the problem here in Region 8.
"We've looked at Department of Agricultural data on cropping patterns all through the Mississippi Flyway and right now we didn't see a relationship between duck numbers," said Bednarz.
"We don't have a big shift. We have a shift to corn acreage, but that really hasn't affected that. The rice acreage is still in that part of the county where the flyaway is. We got plenty of rice to bring the ducks in and hold them," said Vangilder.
Vangilder doesn't feel it is a lack of food keeping the birds away; it's that the birds aren't making it down to Region 8.
"The ducks are wintering farther north. There's more ducks in Missouri, Illinois and there are even more ducks wintering in Canada right now," said Bednarz.
While it's not a problem yet, a lower duck population has the chance to cost the region millions in tourist dollars.
"We have farmers here in this county that six, seven years ago were getting pretty good lease money and we still have that going on, but a lot of those leases are being given up because they are tired of coming over here and seeing blue skies and no ducks," said Vangilder.