Wildlife enforcement keeping close watch on eider ducks

Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2001

BETHEL (AP) -- Wildlife enforcement in local villages is keeping close watch on two species of eider ducks to maker sure they reach their spring birthing grounds unharmed.

The spectacled and Steller's eider are part of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife's goose management plan for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Both species are considered threatened, but their numbers have not fallen low enough to classify them as endangered.

Only one citation was given out this year in the Delta for harming an eider, said Mike Rearden, manager for the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife technicians have helped educate people in area villages through community meetings and school visits.

''People know that they aren't supposed to shoot them,'' Rearden said.

The spectacled eider was plentiful on the Delta in the 1970s, with a population of more than 50,000 pairs, said Brian McCaffery, fish and wildlife biologist with the federal government. By the early 1990s, there were only about 2,000 pairs using the area for breeding. The birds were listed as threatened in 1993.

The cause isn't clear, but possible culprits include spent lead shot, predation by foxes, gulls and jaegers, and ecosystem changes.

The spectacled eider is considered threatened worldwide, even though a large population exists in Russia.

About 4,000 pairs of spectacled eider now come to the coast of Western Alaska to breed every spring. Critical habitat for the eiders breeding grounds in the Delta is considered the land along the coast from Toksook Bay to Scammon Bay.

Steller's eider in the Delta never numbered more than a few thousand pairs, McCaffery said. Most nest on the North Slope.

From 1975 to 1990, the ducks stopped coming to the Delta, McCaffery said. In the early 1990s, biologist found a few nests. They were put on the threatened species list in 1997.

They have a small breeding range located near the villages of Newtok, Nightmute, Tununak and Umkumute. They nest in the waters of the Bering Sea off the coast near Kwigillingok, Kongiganak and Kipnuk and on coastal lands from Toksook Bay to Scammon Bay.

The Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year designated critical habitat areas for the two species of ducks. But large areas of the North Slope designated in draft documents were eliminated from the final version.

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