2020 Brant Hunting: Skagit County

Brant season setting in Skagit County has changed

A guaranteed two-day season will be held on January 11th and 12th in Skagit County. An aerial survey of the Padilla, Samish and Fidalgo bays tallied 2,592 birds, triggering the two-day season. The aerial bird count conducted in Skagit County indicated numbers fell well short of the 6,000 birds required for a full eight-day hunting season, based on concerns for Western High Arctic brant.

“The number of hunting days is directly related to how many brant are counted during these surveys that allow us to monitor the wintering population,” said WDFW waterfowl section manager, Kyle Spragens. “These low counts require us to prioritize conservation responsibilities for this distinctive, coastal species, while providing harvest opportunity when appropriate.”

While the annual counts in Skagit brant numbers can vary widely, it is important to note that this is the fourth restricted brant season in the past five years.

In the past, the fate of the brant season in Skagit County was revealed in a press release only several days before the opener, leaving brant hunters on the edge of their seats till the very last minute. Determination of the season has always waited for survey estimates of the brant population in Skagit bays.

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Peter Pearsall/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The photo survey was first used in January 2017 to set the Skagit season in an effort to increase accuracy in generating brant estimates. An increase in accuracy comes with an increase in processing time to generate the estimate on an already tight timeline. The evolution of the brant season setting process has been going on for years, and this year is no different.

Last Spring Spragens, proposed significant changes to the language in WAC 220–416–060, the states Migratory waterfowl seasons and regulations. The most notable change to the WCA criteria for the Skagit brant season was establishing a guaranteed season when in previous years, it was not. Giving hunters the knowledge about two guaranteed season dates was added to balance harvest management and hunter satisfaction.

“It just made sense!” said Callie Moore, Assistant District Wildlife Biologist for Skagit and Whatcom Counties. “Making hunters wait until several days before the season to know if they would be able to brant hunt this year was understandably stressful for them and us.”

The guaranteed season decreases the urgency of analyzing the photos.

Unfortunately, this year high winds and fog grounded the flight, which was scheduled to fly on December 27, 2019, until yesterday. Because of the delay, a direct visual count was used since photo analysis would not have been possible in time for the press release.

Why is the brant survey estimate necessary?

Two varieties of brant winter in Washington, black brant, and Western High Arctic brant (grey-bellies). The Western High Arctic brant is one of the smallest Arctic goose breeding populations in the world and winters only in a few areas, including Padilla and Samish Bays. This makes them susceptible to overharvest. Thus, harvest opportunity of brant in Skagit County is regulated through season length reductions or season closures to prevent over harvest.

How is the brant survey conducted?

Department staff fly over 300 miles of aerial transects within Padilla, Samish, and Fidalgo Bays — the primary wintering area of the Western High Arctic brant in Washington. Using high-resolution cameras that capture images of approximately 25% of the available habitat, biologists analyze the images to determine a count of the brant and the total area (square kilometers) imaged. From this, a density (number of brant per square km) is calculated and then multiplied across the total available habitat to estimate the population. This estimate is used to set the 2020 brant season in Skagit County.

What is the count estimate criteria for determining the Skagit County 2020 season?

  • Less than 3,000 brant = ONLY the guaranteed hunt dates of Jan. 11 & 12
  • 3,000–6,000 brant = Jan. 11, 12, 15 & 18 hunt dates
  • More than 6,000 brant = Jan. 11, 12, 15, 18, 19, 22, 25, and 26 hunt dates
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Howard Patterson/Flickr

When was the brant survey conducted?

The aerial survey was conducted on January 8, 2020, with a direct visual count.

When will hunters know the results of the survey?

A press release will be issued to the public as soon as possible after the photo survey analysis is complete, or the visual count is conducted, and numbers are tallied. This release will include the survey estimate number and the final season dates for the 2020 Skagit County season.

Will the survey estimate impact the brant season in Whatcom, Clallam, and Pacific Counties?

No. Regardless of the survey estimate, the 2020 season will occur in these counties on the dates listed in the Washington State Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Seasons pamphlet (page 18).

For a PDF version of this information, please click here or visit our website.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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