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Sutter National Wildlife Refuge hunt delayed due to rice harvest
With apologies to Daffy, Bugs and Elmer Fudd, it isn't quite duck season in the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.
Because of the effect on nearby rice fields, the portion of the refuge used for duck hunting can't be flooded at the normal time, meaning the beginning of duck hunting season could be pushed back a month.
The southern part of the refuge, where duck hunting season was to begin Oct. 20, relies on gravity-fed water from the neighboring Sutter Bypass canal, which is operated by the state Department of Water Resources. Flooded flatlands attract the migrating ducks.
But this year, letting the water flow into the refuge would also inundate some upstream rice fields, just as they're getting into the heart of the harvest.
Virginia Getz, conservation program manager with Ducks Unlimited's Sacramento office, said the hope is the harvest will be completed in time for duck hunting season to begin on Nov. 17, if not sooner, depending on when the fields are 50-percent flooded.
"I know they're working out there already, so it's possible that'll beat the November date," she said.
But in the meantime, the closed refuge means dozens of hunters will have to find somewhere else to start their season, whether at another refuge or a private duck club, Getz said.
The Sutter refuge was not particularly large, so other hunting spots will not see too much of a difference, she said. But the water problem isn't unique to this year, she added.
"This problem affects more than one grower," Getz said. "Until this situation is remedied with a longer-term fix like lift pumps, this'll persist."
If the delayed duck hunting season at Sutter refuge has an upside, it's in more ducks and other waterfowl having time to stay in the refuge and potentially create a better hunting experience when the season does begin.
The refuge's typical peak for duck hunting is between December and February, according to a press release from Ducks Unlimited, California Waterfowl and United States Fish and Waterfowl Service.