Rich Hansen is a field biologist and State Banding Coordinator in Utah. He and Ramsey Russell discuss Utah swan hunting and the important of Great Salt Lake associated wetlands to swan conservation. Why is this region vital to North American swans and how many swans pass through Utah? How did swan hunting originate in the United States? Importantly, why is hunting swans vital to this iconic waterfowl species conservation? How many permits are issued to hunt swans in Utah, and how is species harvest regulated? Tundra swans or Trumpeter swan, and does it matter? This informative episode about hunting North America’s largest waterfowl species packs as big a wallop as a ol’ big white bird crashing belly up into the decoys.
Swan Hunting and Conservation in Utah
Ramsey Russell: I’m your host Ramsey Russell, join me here to listen to those conversations. Welcome back to Duck season Somewhere. I’m your host Double-R. I’m in the great state of Utah, certainly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. All over the world, I’ve hunted, and twice I’ve been here, spent a couple of weeks and every morning when the sun comes up, you’ve got the Purple Mountains to the east, the other Purple Mountain range to the west mirrored water. I think to myself, “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever set foot.” I came here to shoot a swan, never mind the fact I applied for swans in five states this year and struck out on four. I did get drawn for Utah, which is a very coveted tag. This area is a major staging area for tundra and trumpeter swans of the Pacific Flyway, great abundance and a beautiful place to hunt them. That’s what led me here and that’s why I wanted to visit with today’s guest, Rich Hansen, who is a biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife. Y’all that have been listening to us for awhile may remember he was my very first episode of Duck Season Somewhere. How are you today, Rich?
Rich Hansen: I’m great. Thanks, Ramsey, for having me, honored to be here.
Ramsey Russell: I hate that I pulled you out of a duck blind this morning with your sons. You were still out there hunting and banging away and you had your two handsome boys in the blind with you, but thank you for coming. It did allow me a nap or so before you got here. It was a nice day out there today.
Rich Hansen: Yeah, it was a great day. The wind was just picking up, the birds just started moving, we were able to get a few, and the kids had a good time and were starting to get cold, so it worked out perfect for me.
Ramsey Russell: Where did y’all go this morning?
Rich Hansen: We were at Ogden Bay Waterfowl Management Area.
Ramsey Russell: Out there around the spur, like where I’ve been going? Were y’all in shallow water for puddle ducks?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, we were out on Unit One, it’s our largest unit out here on the Waterfowl Management Area which went to the north end. I knew there would be some divers kicking around so the kids could see some shooting and see some birds and it worked out perfectly.
Ramsey Russell: That’s a big deal out here. We saw some cans this morning hunting around Farmington Bay. I saw some pintails, saw some mallards, and shot a lot of shovelers. The guy I was with, he knows me, and my favorite duck is the next one over the decoys. The opportunity to shoot seven shovelers in a day, how can I pass that up? I had a friend text me. He saw a picture I sent him. He said, “Oh, shovelers, he’s a Mississippi boy!” I said, “Yeah, you do this stuff for a living. I do this all the time. If I was just chasing mallards or ‘quality’ ducks it would get kind of boring.” I like diversity. Since Char-Pup and I left Mississippi in mid-October I think we’ve racked up 20 species. That’s what diversity is, the spice of life, right?
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. That’s impressive.
What Makes Utah Great for Waterfowl Hunting?
Two-thirds of all the swans in North America come here for the sago pondweed.
Ramsey Russell: Y’all certainly got some species out here. What is it about this area? What is it about this area that makes it, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the Pacific Flyway?
Rich Hansen: It’s the submerged vegetation that we produce in all of our Waterfowl Management Areas. Sago pondweed, that is gold for waterfowl. That’s what swans come for, geese use it, all species of ducks use it. It is absolutely amazing from the tubers, the divers that swans eat, to the stems, to the leafy parts that gadwall and wigeon like, to the seeds that they produce for fertile mallards and pintails. It is amazing.
Ramsey Russell: You don’t plant that, it’s natural?
Rich Hansen: It is naturally occurring around here. The way a lot of our Waterfowl Management Areas are set up to where they flow through impoundments. You have a constant water flow through three or four different sets of impoundments out into the Great Salt Lake. That seed is just spread throughout. For us, it’s really easy to transplant in a pond that doesn’t have as much, either, and it readily establishes.
Ramsey Russell: How would you describe this plant to somebody? Because I’m out there wading around in a knee-deep pond and I see this mass of grass looking stuff matted up. I imagine, for lack of a description, flooded bermuda at a glance, the grass just floats along. I’ve been at the boat ramp and I see these little fuzzy seed heads, these little fuzzy tufts of green, like they’re out of a paintbrush, but then you see these big round root balls floating around. How long is this plant? Tell me about this plant, what it likes to grow in and how long it is and specifically what waterfowl cadres eat different parts of the plant and when?
Rich Hansen: Sago pondweed loves water that’s anywhere from 12″ to 30″ deep. It loves clearwater. It’s very important that when these different impoundments get turbid we do a liquid rotenone carp control treatment to get the carp out of there. it responds very well to those clear conditions once the carp are removed.
Ramsey Russell: Because carp swimming around just makes the waters muddy.
Rich Hansen: Both swimming around and feeding on the bottom increases the turbidity and doesn’t allow the Sago pondweed to photosynthesize and grow.
Ramsey Russell: I’ll be danged. How important is Sago pondweed? I know I’ve got an opinion, having talked to you. Swans is what I’m getting at, because that’s what’s putting all these swans here. That’s why they’re here to stay, aren’t they? Sago pondweed?
Rich Hansen: It is. That is the number one reason they come here and we have upwards of 80,000 swans that will migrate through Utah through the Great Salt Lake area on their way to the wintering grounds.
Ramsey Russell: Ain’t that crazy?
Rich Hansen: It is, so two-thirds of the entire population in North America.
Ramsey Russell: Two-thirds of all the swans in North America come here for the sago pondweed. You told me an interesting story the other night that the reason Utah, and I’m assuming much of the United States, have a swan season at all had something to do with their affinity for that plant.
A Brief History of Swan Hunting
Utah was the very first state in North America to allow a swan hunt.
Rich Hansen: Yeah, it’s very interesting and I don’t think there’s probably too many people that know about this, but I’m going to let you in on a really interesting story on how it all started. Back in the late 50s, local biologists and managers were seeing swans come in, tens of thousands, and they were staying throughout the fall because there was no hunting allowed for the swans, and they ate the Sago so much that they pretty much depleted it in a lot of these ponds. On the spring work migration, there was nothing for the swans to eat. It’s very important that they have the Sago pondweed on their spring migration so they can complete their migration up to the tundra and reserve with good body reserves as well so they can nest. I think where it culminated was actually there were thousands that stayed in the late 50s and a really bad winter. Most of the areas were locked up with ice and they ate all of the Sago pondweed out of the open areas and hundreds of them starved to death.
Ramsey Russell: They showed up and because of that plant they refused to move on down the flyway. There was no hunting pressure, nothing to keep them moving along. They literally ate themselves out of house and home. The ones that did fly south, by the time they came back up and they needed to refuel, get those fat reserves going to produce eggs or continue their migration, there was no food here. It’s a fall and spring staging area.
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. They all stop here in the spring as well. We’re talking 80,000 through the Great Salt Lake area in the fall and that same 80,000 back here in the spring.
Ramsey Russell: Do you know how their populations were doing back in the 50s and 60s? Did they perceive that the populations were declining?
Rich Hansen: They were stable then, but they weren’t growing like they are now, so there was some concern for them and seeing a die-off like that in the winter really showed the importance of maintaining the Sago. The biologists and local managers all got together and also partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service and they determined that Utah could hunt tundra swans. Utah was the very first state in North America to allow a swan hunt. That occurred in 1962, there were 1000 Swan Tags available that year and 313 swans were harvested.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s become a thing now?
Rich Hansen: Oh, it’s huge now. We have up to 2750 Swan tags and there are over 6000 people that put in for those.
Ramsey Russell: Wow. That’s why it’s hard to get!
Rich Hansen: Yeah. It’s amazing, just in the last five years, the popularity has really grown. Before, you would draw every other year, and now, it’s about every third year you’re pretty well guaranteed.
Ramsey Russell: Do you think it was controversial back in the 60s when those state biologists proposed that? Do you think they had any public flak about going out and shooting this majestic white bird?
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. There was a lot of opposition. Everybody sees those big white majestic birds and they want to fight tooth and nail to not allow hunting.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve seen that same trend, not just in Utah or throughout the United States, but worldwide. The Netherlands, where there are so many mute swans which are a third bigger than these little tundras, just imagine so many swans on a dairy farm that the farmer begins to lose money on milk production because he doesn’t have the grazing land to feed the cows. They go out under permit and shoot these swans. My biggest dealing face-to-face with an anti-hunter was like Bugs Bunny becoming discombobulated when she rounded up that van and saw those eight or nine dead swans. If she’d been speaking English, I’d probably been offended. She was speaking Dutch, so it didn’t bother me so bad. I was dumbfounded that somebody was losing her cookies like that. Same thing in Australia, Russia, man, they don’t shoot those swans over there. Mongolia, don’t shoot those swans, they got bewicks over there in Mongolia and I’m pretty sure there are whooping swans in Russia and they don’t go there with swans. Swans are controversial. I wonder why? Just a big, white, beautiful bird, I guess.
Waterfowl Management Areas in Utah
That always gives me an opportunity to educate them on conservation and how hunters are conservationists and they are the reason we have these Waterfowl Management Areas that we have.
Rich Hansen: It must be the fact they are a big white beautiful bird because I’ve run into the same thing from the non-consumptive users. I mean they see the hunters out hunting and shooting these birds and they just want to give me an earful and talk about how it’s not right. That always gives me an opportunity to educate them on conservation and how hunters are conservationists and they are the reason we have these Waterfowl Management Areas that we have. I try to just promote hunting as much as possible.
Ramsey Russell: I hunted this morning, like yourself, went down to a pretty interesting club called the New State Duck Club. I don’t know, something about that name, so I asked the guy. It’s really weird. I tell you, we drove out through this boat, went through the channels, break, you ride to the parking lot and it’s like this little storage building with doors. What’s that game show? Choose door 1, 2 or 3? You open up the door, boom, it opens up into a boat slip with a little locker. Climbing the boat slip, we open the garage, we back out, we run through this maze of channels and this beautiful marsh, 5000 acre property. We set up and the wind is in our face. I said, “Is this what you want?” He goes, “Yeah, because the weatherman says it’s going to come out, it’s going to be behind, quick. It’s supposed to blow 20 mph today out of the South.” I said, “All right.” We were done at 8:30 on mostly shovelers. I shot the next duck in the decoys and then the wind picked up behind us and had we just waited till then we would have shot mallards and pintails and greenwings in our face for 20 minutes, they were killing us, but that was fine and there’s a sky full of swans. We did have some lull. We started talking about this and, having heard your story about why Utah DNR pushed for swan hunting, to me, the swan is the poster boy for hunters as conservations in the waterfowl world and that’s the topic, Rich, I’ve kind of struggled with, trying to articulate to somebody. When we have too many deer in a place they eat themselves out of house and home. We know what’s going on with the mid-continent population of snow geese, but they’re snow geese, not swans. It conserved that bird, we hunters, by hunting them. Yeah, we’re shooting some for recreational interest and meat, but at the same time we were able to affect their migration and put just enough pressure on to move them on down the flyaway to conserve this valuable resource up here. Now they’re proliferating, now they’re expanding. Their populations seem to be doing really good nationwide and I’d always heard about bison and white tail deer and some of these other examples of hunters and conservation, but I never really could think of a good example that we hunters had done well for waterfowl. Snow geese, we’ve been shooting conservation for snow geese for over 20 years and we haven’t turned the tide on that yet. That’s really not a success story. Swans are, and that’s very interesting to me.
Rich Hansen: Yes, and that is exactly what they had in mind in 1962. Getting some hunters out there and shooting a few of them to help them move along the way and complete their migration a little bit quicker, so they didn’t deplete their food sources.
Ramsey Russell: Do you know whether or not these are the same swans that go to North Carolina or are these birds pretty much confined to the Pacific Flyway?
Rich Hansen: These birds are pretty much confined to the Pacific Flyway. It’s somewhere in Saskatchewan where they split and a third of them head to the East Coast and two-thirds of them come down through the Great Salt Lake and head to the West Coast.
Ramsey Russell: Can you elaborate on the anti-involvement or non-hunter involvement in swans? Have they ever articulated to them why exactly they’re offended that some hunters want to go out and shoot them?
Ramsey Russell: They don’t protest out here, do they?
Rich Hansen: No.
Ramsey Russell: Write nasty letters and see your truck pull up an give you and earful?
Rich Hansen: I do get the earful and they bad mouth the hunters, but I haven’t seen any protests. I think it’s just the fact that they are big, beautiful, white, majestic birds and they hate the fact that somebody could shoot one.
Ramsey Russell: There used to be a story, when I was your son’s age here. By the way guys, right here in the studio, he’s got his handsome little six year old boy, Sawyer with him. He’s been very patient and quiet. But when I was his age, you know, there used to be a children’s story called “The Ugly Duckling” about the ugly little duck that grew into this great big beautiful swan. It wasn’t a duck, it was a swan, but it’s called “The Ugly Duckling.” It was a staple that all children got read to when they were young. It’s funny how certain parts of society assign greater value to one wildlife resource than to the other. Wouldn’t you agree with that?
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. What’s the difference between a green-winged teal life versus a big, old swan life?
Ramsey Russell: The same thing could be said about ducks, I guess. Now that I think about it, my buddy Big Water back home was big on those blue bills and up here, the boys I hunt with and over in Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, blue bills are a coveted bird. That’s a big bird for those guys, back home they’re not, they’re “trash ducks.” Nobody I know really goes out and targets blue bills. They might get shot, myself included, but they’re not really a prize. Everybody wants the mallards and the gadwalls and the pintails and the teal and the wood ducks. It’s interesting to me that the swan is such a controversial topic and, I’ll say this ,a lot of the guys listen to us and follow us on social media are ardent hunters, whether they’ve been hunting for a year or a lifetime, they are serious hunters, and my inbox blew up. Ed Waller took a nice picture of me loading this one up in a boat and my inbox blew up. Is it edible?
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. A lot of these guys, I almost relate them to deer hunters because that is all they care about is going and getting their swan. They love to eat them, they love the pursuit, they will all pass ducks and geese just waiting for the swan to come. That is their hunt that they will put as many days in as they need to harvest one.
Ramsey Russell: The day I shot mine, I was waiting on maybe another species, and I thought I might glance around to look for a band or collar, and this great big white bird, the first one that did it, oh yeah. I’ve known you long enough, I ran behind, I knew what was [about to] happen. The minute that bird hooked up, started spinning around into the decoy, I knew where that was going. I’ve always marveled at great, big Canada geese, how long it takes them to maneuver, you really get an eyeful, but a swan, I would say, when he decided to swing, it may take him a quarter mile to get position with that wind. Those big wide wings and that long neck with the big “S” in it, looked like a pair of black catcher’s mitts hanging down like rudders. It seemed like for twenty minutes we watched this bird working, slow-motion, into the decoys. But there’s just one trigger pull or a double tap and you’re done. It is a lot like deer hunting, it’s not like a duck hunt where you’re out there to shoot multiple birds to get a bag. It’s one every few years if you’re lucky enough to get drawn. The guy I hunted with today said that he felt part of the reason it was tough to get drawn for swans is that anti-hunters would apply for permits to keep hunters from getting drawn. Do you see that?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, I think we’re seeing a lot of that with sandhill cranes and swans.
Controversy Over Hunting Tundra & Trumpeter Swans and Sandhill Cranes
The deal was that each and every swan that is harvested has to be checked within a 72 hour period.
Ramsey Russell: Now that you opened up that sandbox, is there anything going on with sandhills differently here than some of the surrounding states where sandhill cranes are legal? Is it off the corridor migration or is it a different sandhill?
Rich Hansen: No, it’s the same Sandhill species.
Ramsey Russell: Public sentiment?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, there’s a lot of public sentiment, and it’s controversial, because you’ve got the farmers that are experiencing all of the depredation issues and then you’ve got all of the non-hunters, just like the swan, it’s a beautiful, majestic bird that they don’t think should be hunted.
Ramsey Russell: It’s almost like we need to have a sandhill crane cooking and feed all these folks. They would probably get on board with it.
Rich Hansen: I think they would jump on board.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, that’s a very fine eating bird. Rich, what do you know about the trumpeter swan? We get drawn for swans, your season is open, but y’all run a special count when you kill a swan. It’s mandatory, you come get checked, and then what? Why is it mandatory that each swan shot be brought into the check station?
Rich Hansen: Part of the agreement with allowing a tundra swan hunt in Utah had to do with Fish and Wildlife service protecting the trumpeter swan population in the Montana-Idaho-Wyoming area. There’s about 1000 swans that live in that region. The deal was that each and every swan that is harvested has to be checked within a 72 hour period. Biologists are measuring the distance between the inside of the nasal opening to the end of the bill. If that measurement exceeds 61 mm, then there’s a good chance it’s a trumpeter.
Ramsey Russell: What is so special about that bird? Are they just not as plentiful?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, their numbers were down into the hundreds. That population is growing well now and it’s in good shape and hopefully we can expand this allowable take. Right now, we’re at 20 birds. When we hit 20 birds, we have to have an emergency closure of the season.
Ramsey Russell: How many tags did you say, 1500 odd tags, are drawn?
Rich Hansen: 2750.
Ramsey Russell: 2700. If in the first week the incidental take of trumpeters exceeds 20, nobody else gets to hunt, it’s shut down for swan?
Rich Hansen: Exactly. That’s something that’s funny, we’re talking about that right now. We’re at 14 right now on November 13, last year we were at eight on the same day and we ended up having to close it, I think, two days before the season normally closed. We had a similar weather event back in October that really froze things up here for those things up in Idaho and Montana and we saw the same family groups of trumpeters migrated to Utah earlier than normal. I’m really afraid that we’re going to have to possibly close the season a couple weeks earlier this year.
Ramsey Russell: I talked to somebody on social media coming over here after Thanksgiving to swan hunt from Wisconsin and I told him, “Y’all better come on early if you can. You better just jump in the truck and come on, because number one, they’re here, they’re everywhere. But number two,I got an email from DNRC that said check your emails daily because we may have to close this thing down.” It’s interesting to me because I was over in Minnesota the summer before last and all of the swans you see up there breeding in the land of a 1000 lakes tend to be trumpeter swans. They seem to be doing real good over in that part of the world. I’ve even heard rumors and it’s just that, rumors. If somebody can confirm, please call me, I’d like to know this for a fact. I’ve heard that they might open a special trumpeter season over there. Have you heard anything?
Rich Hansen: I haven’t heard that but that’s interesting. I know with the trumpeters that are taken now we are taking 3-5 feathers and they want to do an isotope analysis to see if these are the trumpeters from the intermountain region of Idaho-Montana-Wyoming. If they are, then we are shutting it down when we’re supposed to. The trumpeters that are from the tundra, Canada, Alaska, and whatnot, that population is doing just fine. If we find out from the isotope analysis that it’s these birds then we may be able to expand the number that we can shoot.
Ramsey Russell: That’d be good, increase some harvest opportunity. Utah was the first state to allow swan hunting. I’ve known I’ve shot a couple of swans over in North Carolina that’s what I think of applying to get drawn. Covid affected everybody differently. It kind of turned my imagination loose because I was parked at home for so long and now I want to shoot a swan everywhere I can. I would have said as recently as a few months ago, they were legal in eight states, they’re legal in 10 states because this year Idaho allowed 60 some odd tags for residents-only, supposedly they’re going to go to a public draw and Delaware let about five dozen go, last year was residents-only this year with nonresidents too, so it’s expanding. Nevada, as I understand it, you can still buy tags over the counter. I think it’s the only state where you can buy them over the counter.
Rich Hansen: I have heard that.
The Joys of Utah Waterfowl Hunting
I know I’m partial to the views here, but I don’t think the views can be beat when you’re in a duck blind in Utah.
Ramsey Russell: To me, it’s exciting that on the one hand, duck hunters are eternal optimists. You have to be optimistic. Get up in time in the morning, we get up and go, especially this part where it’s hard hunting y’all do sometimes up here, but you go out anyway and there seems to be in some parts of the country the migration is withering of ducks. It just seems to be something going on. But on the other hand, there are expanding opportunities.
Rich Hansen: Absolutely. Especially along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, all the Waterfowl Management Areas that we have. Guys in Utah take a lot of things for granted. They don’t realize how spoiled we are to have a 107 day season, I think since 1997, with a bag limit of seven birds. I think a three days bag limit is the possession limit here. We have a lot of opportunities.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, if y’all are listening and y’all are from the state of Utah, y’all are spoiled. You’ve got a beautiful place to hunt. You have gajillions of acres of public land, walk-in, boat-in, airboat. It’s unbelievable the resources you have here and all the species and the swan hunting. It’s incredible, not to mention the big game hunting up in the mountains, some of the best, preeminent in the country for mule deer. I told my wife this morning on the drive over, “Come on out here and visit, we might want to move out here and retire.” She thinks I’m kidding. My buddy Justin Bailly, I think he’s worried I’m fixing to move in. I have kind of moved here for the last few weeks.
Rich Hansen: I know I’m partial to the views here, but I don’t think the views can be beat when you’re in a duck blind in Utah.
Ramsey Russell: I really do not. How did you phragmites war going? Because I didn’t seem to see very much this year.
Rich Hansen: Yeah, I think we’re making incredible progress. We treat thousands of acres every year and inside the Waterfowl Management Area, inside the impoundment where we can control the water, we’re having huge success.
Ramsey Russell: How do you control phragmites?
Rich Hansen: When we want to spray it, we water it, we keep it healthy all summer long and then we spray it in August or September when it’s gone to seed head, at that time it’s taken all of its energy reserves back to the roots. It transports all that herbicide to the roots and kills the whole plant.
Utah DNR & Duck Populations in Utah
It’s not just all of us ambitious waterfowl managers, it’s all the ambitious hunters that are giving back as well.
Ramsey Russell: That’s good stuff. I don’t see as much of some of the areas that you managed that I see in other places. You seem to be very effective. I’m leading up to a question that will kind of put you on the spot here. I think it has a lot to do with your abilities and performance as a wildlife manager on a lot of public land resources. Rich, everybody that I meet in Utah has a lot of good stuff to say about you, specifically, but also about Utah DNR. You’ve got a great agency out here that seems to be very hunter friendly and hunter accommodating. Would you say that?
Rich Hansen: I agree. I think it’s a great agency. I think I work with some of the hardest working and best people in the entire state. I know I do in the waterfowl team. There’s a manager and an assistant from Farmington, there’s me and an assistant from Ogden Bay, and there’s a manager and an assistant from Salt Creek, and we get after it and we are all very avid waterfowl hunters. We want to improve all of our areas not only for the hunters, but I think, as a very ambitious waterfowl hunter, we want to improve things for ourselves as well.
Ramsey Russell: How important are hunters to Utah DNR’s mission out here around the Great Lakes in this basin? I’m speaking about duck hunters and duck habitat. What is your personal opinion as to how vital they are to what you are trying to accomplish?
Rich Hansen: They’re incredibly important from the standpoint that we manage these areas strictly on hunting license dollars matched with PR dollars. If it weren’t for the hunters, we wouldn’t have these areas. Also, waterfowl hunters are awesome. They want to give back and we rely heavily upon volunteers to accomplish what we do. It’s not just all of us ambitious waterfowl managers, it’s all the ambitious hunters that are giving back as well. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to accomplish nearly as much as we do.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. How did your duck banding go this year? I know you banded a lot of birds out here?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, I know. It was a great year, we banded probably around 2000 ducks. That’s a pretty great year for us.
Ramsey Russell: How was that compared to normal?
Rich Hansen: We hit normal.
Ramsey Russell: Covid wasn’t a problem?
Rich Hansen: It wasn’t for us. We usually can have volunteers help out, but this year it was just DNR personnel. Duck banding is the most fun thing that we all do. It’s everybody’s reward for the hard work and spraying phragmites and all the other habitat work we do. Our seasonal wildlife technicians, a lot of them come and do 90% of the really tough, not as rewarding stuff just for the banding.
Ramsey Russell: What are the most banded birds up here? Because y’all are banding the summertime.
Rich Hansen: We band in late July and August, so cinnamon teal is our number one nester around here. We try to hit at least 500 cinnamon teal banded each year. Sometimes we hit 700-800, some years about 400. We really put a lot of effort into it and we do a really good job with targeting cinnamon teal.
Ramsey Russell: Redheads, I’ve shot some redheads that were banded here. Do they nest? They must nest here if they’re still around that time of year.
Rich Hansen: This is another very important nesting area for redheads. Although, back when the Great Salt Lake flooded in the late 80s, we lost a lot of our breeding redheads. Prior to the 80s, this was one of the most important nesting areas in the west.
Ramsey Russell: What changed then?
Rich Hansen: Well, the Great Salt Lake actually flooded all of the Waterfowl Management Areas. So they were all filled with salt water. We lost all of the emergent vegetation, the hearts and bull rush they really like to nest in, and it took years to get that back. It is recovering well now and we have a fair number of redheads, but it’s nothing compared to what was in here in the 70s and 80s.
Ramsey Russell: Most cinnamon teal breed here in this basin?
Rich Hansen: Yeah, we do have ideal conditions for them. They love nesting in salt grass and with the saline conditions we have. we have a lot of salt grass around the impoundments.
Ramsey Russell: Really. I shoot plenty of cinnamon teals. I’ve shot plenty, but I would say that of the Species Guys, the Collection Guys, North American Collection Guys, the number one most requested bird is a cinnamon teal. I do like to shoot them. We were somewhere down on Antelope yesterday and went up in the weeds. They were getting out in droves and we went up there just to flush them and see them. A lot of red birds. This morning we went for the low-hanging fruit shovelers. Never mind the wind in our face, they were banging the decoys and we were banging away at them. The minute that wind changed, there must have been about 1500-2000 birds rafted up 500-600 yards over here and then 500-600 birds rafted up over yonder. They were calm during the shooting. That wind shifted, it blew the ice a little bit, the ice started to melt, they started flying, they wanted to go somewhere else and they all came over our decoys. I had a wad of probably 20 red cinnamons low on the deck 15 yards out. Too bad, I was done. Probably would have shot one of your bands, too, with that many cinnamon teals in the air. I was done on shovelers, but you know me. They don’t call them Ramzillas for nothing.
Rich Hansen: To me, it seems like the cinnamon teal population is doing really well. I think it goes up every year. We’re seeing more breeding pairs and we’re seeing better production each and every year, so that’s encouraging.
Ramsey Russell: That is exciting. I did shoot some goldeneyes out here. Y’all have a lot of divers out here, too. I don’t know how far it is, but in between the east and west mountain ranges that bordered this valley, the species diversity within this relatively small area is astounding.
Rich Hansen: It is and Sago pondweed is probably what is attracting the majority of the birds.
Ramsey Russell: I read a book one time talking about how vital shrimp were to the Gulf of Mexico because every fish in there eats it. It’s the bottom of the food chain and the fish eats it. That’s the way I think it’s a sago pondweed now that I’ve been here in the state of Utah.
Rich Hansen: Absolutely.
Ramsey Russell: What are your plans for the rest of the season? Hunt with your kids?
Rich Hansen: Yeah. We’re going to Montana for a week and hunting geese. We really try to be proactive when it gets really cold, pulling boards and keeping water moving.
Ramsey Russell: Keep that open.
Rich Hansen: Yeah, to hold birds around one, to provide more opportunity for hunters. But it’s also important that we hold it open for the birds so they can get to the Sago pondweed.
Ramsey Russell: When will you start seeing the bulk of the migration through? When will they start moving further down the food chain and the flyway?
Rich Hansen: We usually peak in swan numbers around November 15, so about right now, and typically it’s around 50,000.
Ramsey Russell: That’s incredible to me. 50,000 swans in this relatively small little area. Speaking of relative land size, I just made this observation yesterday. I’m from Mississippi and our state DNR does very good, also. I’ve got a lot of respect for them. Every club I go to up here, every private club, every WMA federal refuge that works, there’s so much inviolate sanctuary in this basin. I would dare say it greatly exceeds the total amount of public hunting acreage in the state of Mississippi. It’s got to, on an acreage basis. How important is that for waterfowl management up here?
Rich Hansen: Oh, it’s very important. It’s probably one of the most important things next to having the feed that they need to sustain them. When I got to Ogden Bay five years ago, there wasn’t a rest area here.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, really?
Rich Hansen: Yeah. The next year we implemented a rest area and the hunting has just been off the charts this year. It’s because of that rest there. There’s 25,000 ducks in there and they’ve about eaten all the feed in there. Every day, they’ve got to get up and travel to the hunt-able areas to feed.
Ramsey Russell: We launched out in Ogden Bay the other day, hunted some divers, shot some ducks, and we’re coming out and drove right by one. A mile stretch, you look to the right and it’s one of your refuges. Ed was in the truck with me and I said, “Hey, drop me off here, pick me up when it gets dark.” He said, “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, it doesn’t get dark till six.” “Well, just drop me off and I’ll just catch a ride back.” He ended up hooking up with you and you took him around and man, he took some pictures, he was loving these rest areas up here. I think it really keeps the hunting good. they’ve got to get out and move and feed and utilize different resources. To ensure hunting quality, I think it’s vital to have the sanctuary area.
Rich Hansen: Every Waterfowl Management Area could use a rest area.
Ramsey Russell: Any conservation issues going on in Utah right now that you’re aware of? Jordan River, I know I was talking to somebody going to talk with Chad, he was telling me there’s something going on with the fresh water getting into the Great Salt Lake because of the drought right now.
Rich Hansen: Absolutely, water is always an issue in Utah. We’re the second driest state in the nation. Water is always going to be the biggest controversial issue. They’re wanting to dam up a bunch of the water and on the Bear River and send that to Salt Lake.
Ramsey Russell: You’re kidding!
Rich Hansen: No, it’s in the works right now. We rely upon all that excess water to go into Bear River Bay and the Great Salt Lake to sustain the waterfowl and the shorebird habitat that we have.
Ramsey Russell: There are a lot of shore birds here, too. It’s not just the waterfowl. Right now, there’s more snowy plovers than I’ve ever seen. It’s just a little whiteshore bird flying around. It’s unbelievable how many there are.
Rich Hansen: There’s a lot of shorebirds. It’s one of the most important areas like in the region for shorebirds, in addition to waterfowl.
Ramsey Russell: Folks, you’ve been listening to Rich Hansen, Utah DNR. We’ve been talking about swans and a lot of other cool stuff up here in Utah. You have to take a test if you want to apply for non-resident swan hunting in the state of Utah. You go online, you have to take and pass a little test, which is primarily about the distinction between trumpeters and tundras, very easy. If I can pass it, I think anybody can, but go take the test and apply. You owe it to yourself to hunt North America’s largest waterfowl species. Thank y’all for listening. See you soon.