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We Are Killing Too Many Ducks
BACKGROUND:

I am 66 years old; I began searching out mallards that had been wounded by hunters with our family dog and a bb gun at the age of 10 in Rice Lake, WI. The disease really hit me as a boy in Clinton, IA hunting along the Mississippi River. It was there that I was introduced into that great fraternity of waterfowlers with Mississippi River traditions. Since then I have hunted Canadian Provinces, extensively from north to south in the mid states of the US always delighting in the magic of duck hunting.

Through most of my life I have supported our professional managers point of view. Of late, I have become more and more concerned about what I believe is over harvest, and underestimating the impact of killing and crippling and the wrong headed notion that the key to sustaining interests in duck hunting are liberal bags and extended seasons.

I am sharing this with you for your reaction; I look forward to your take on my thoughts. I know you and I share the passion for the wonderful sport of duck hunting.

BACKGROUND

My concerns center around my belief that we have engaged in long term over harvest of many species of ducks. Additionally, it appears to me that the proclivity of many biologists is to believe erroneously that liberal seasons are necessary to attract hunters vs. other issues such as access, seeing birds, and simpler frameworks.

Another of my primary concerns is the increased tendency in the past several years to have commercial hunting interests very active and very politically involved in regulations determination. Nothing has illustrated that more dramatically than the incursions by Senator Trent Lott and the resulting politics of southern season extensions and northern season earlier openings.

Continuing the liberal strategy under the so-called adaptive harvest method in 2002, directly in the face of significant population declines in several of our most sought after species made absolutely no sense at all.

In spite of the heroic efforts of many in the public and in the private sectors, we face continued loss of habitats (both wet and dry) and environmental degradation of the assets essential to our continental duck population. We see reduced productivity of many "secured" habitats due to exotic species, eutrophication, predators, and inadequate management (impacted by under funding).

Our current harvest strategy called adaptive harvest is the latest version of a liberal biology that correctly states that habitats and climate are dominate keys. But, in my opinion, it consistently underemphasizes the impact of kill, (including underestimating the impact of crippling) and the refusal by most of the public agencies to provide ethical leadership in general. Few biologists are alive today and active in their professions that really know what the bird numbers were back in the 50's when perhaps we had 150 million ducks on the continent.

It also appears to me that managing around mallards has unintended negative pressures on other species of ducks such as wood ducks. In my part of the world we may be seeing some significant reductions in wood duck populations.

This liberal emphasis began in the 60's with the point system. The underlying assumption has always been that certain species being in surplus, and under relatively light gunning pressure, or both, allow an opportunity to allow more in the bag. We can all remember 15 pt pintails in the 100 pt system.

I was just as guilty as anyone of embracing liberal harvests, because it selfishly meant to me that I was able through skilled identification to shoot more birds.

As soon as the drought of the 80's and 90's subsided in the mid continent and we benefited by the return of water to the prairies in combination with CRP, we instantly moved to more liberal bags and longer seasons and we continue that today.

Based on my reading, ducks among avian species can be relatively long lived. The dominant policy culture refuses to believe that we may be able with certain species to stockpile ducks; therefore, everything is treated as compensatory mortality (would have died anyway).

Today we see several species in a long-term decline in spite of all the efforts by private organizations and public servants. Estimates were provided of pintails in excess of 7 million birds in the 70's. In the most recent season the projected number of pintails was 1.5 million, how sad. Lesser scaup continue their decline. We have never in my lifetime gotten canvasbacks off the mat (no pun intended). Our mallards are down 2 - 3 million birds in the last 2 - 3 years, totally unnecessary in my opinion.

Many hunters are greeted by empty skies today that grew up knowing what large numbers of birds were like. Few biologists are left from that era, not that today's biologists don't care, they do, but in my opinion many are spoon fed questionable strategies.

As hunters we promote competition calling in the field to justify our big egos. We constantly add technology to the toolbox. Our agencies refuse to question where we are going. And many of us who hunt are pathetically ignorant of the proper identification of these wonderful birds. We often handle our guns poorly in terms of killing effectiveness, blame it on steel shot, and view others in the field as unwelcome competitors rather than opportunities in teamwork. The results, sky busting, crippling, and a degraded experience.

Is there a way out? Can we introduce our youth to this grand tradition in a better way? Better yet will it survive at all?

There are days where I believe that we are trapped in a continual down cycle periodically interrupted by just the right combination of water and land management that allows unrealistic optimism to replace years of pessimism. I do not know if there is a way out. I do know that those of us who in our lifetimes have benefited so much by the existence of this great resource should try. I am going to propose some possibilities from the standpoint of this lifetime duck hunter. I am not a biologist, scientist, administrator, simply one among all who treasure waterfowl (primarily ducks) whose life is much the richer having been in the marsh and the river and by the lake.

PRESENT CONDITIONS

Much of our prime mid continent habitat is in drought condition. Man's impact on the landscape has, among other things resulted in many more predators impacting large areas necessary for reproduction. As noted earlier our continental mallard population is down in the area of 3 million birds from the recent high of the 90's. Hunters, and often their conservation agencies and politicians clamor for more liberal seasons and the compensatory believers in the biological community are driven to deliver.

Canada especially suffers the pressure of farmers trying to survive in the global agricultural economy by growing more crops, and leaving less as habitat.

Commercial hunting operations continue to attempt to control both ducks and duck politics.

The duck hunter who is trying to live on $30,000 or $40,000 of income per year with a child or children often looks at empty skies. The birds are pounded from Alaska to Mexico. Where are the birds? Today reminds me of what I read about the old days of the buffalo hunters. They never believed that they could be gone, they always believed they were north, or just west, or wherever and much of the same appears to me to be happening now. The hunters are told that patterns have changed and there is truth in that, however concluding as did the buffalo hunter that the buffalo have merely gone elsewhere is an illusion.

I believe that we have been into additive mortality more often than we should with many of our ducks in my lifetime.

Biology compelled by liberal harvest and complex regulations has not added hunters. If hunters do not have access, they will take up golf. It is "access stupid"; it is quality experiences, not regulations drawn on "paper ducks" and complex regulations.

We need to begin to require a more educated waterfowler, and we need to reexamine our personal philosophies. Is it really that neat to pull the mallards away from the other guy, beat him to the best spot, have 4 robo-ducks out, is that what it is all about?

There will always be drought and there will always be flood, peaks and valleys and given good times ducks can produce abundantly, in the meantime we must quit fooling ourselves, we do not know as much as we think we do and we must begin to treat this great gift with the gratitiude it deserves.

MANAGEMENT ALTERNATIVES

Today we are within a year or two of completing the adaptive harvest plan. In theory it is supposed to be sensitive to habitat, climate, population, etc., but in fact it is also driven by an emotional bias toward harvest. This is promoted by the compensatory harvest crowd and by politics. How else could we have ended up in 2002 with a liberal bag and season length extension and had both north and south offered extended season (earlier openers north, later close south). To their credit some states listened to their hunters and did not take what was offered. But almost everywhere you could hear the battle cry, and it was articulated along the lines "if they are going to have the opportunity we are not going to deny our duck hunters the same opportunity". It is the newest version of trying to make a right out of two wrongs.

HOW MANY DAYS ARE ENOUGH

In the mid continent northern tier of states 40 to 50 days is more than enough. Up north it is usually over at the end of October. Not so in the southern portion of the northern states, it would seem that a 40 to 50 day frame work around the country can offer needed flexibility through split seasons to allow gunners to enjoy some local birds and early migrants and end with the chance at the magic of a northern flight.

HOW MANY BIRDS CONSTITUTE A GOOD HUNT

When I was a boy in the late 40's and 50's we were able to have 4 birds each. We had a lot more ducks then, more habitat, less technology.

Who needs more than 4 ducks? Two of us out together enjoying a sunrise, 8 birds if we are fortunate enough to get them. That is enough to clean and cook. Most often higher bags end up being given away to neighbors who can't say no and can't stand the taste of duck. You know where the birds go.

Whether it is a shoot of greenwing teal or big late mallards, 8 birds are plenty. If we could go beyond 4 birds for the two hunters and not harm the continental waterfowl population, who cares. We had a great day! Do we always want to err on the side of a biological concept (allowable kill) or do we want to err on the side of conservation. Do we want to convey the impression that full skies are for more than shooting. All said 4 birds are enough for eating, for picking, and yes even for our indefatigable retrievers.

WHEN SHOULD WE START?

It has long been known that most hunters are only fair at bird identification on the wing and we only add to that problem by our addiction to one half hour before sunrise. We justify it in a number of ways. One is that when hunting is tough we may only get a crack at one bunch of birds just as dawn is breaking. In addition we know that identification is not difficult just in the morning, there are a variety of light conditions during the entire day that can make it tough. Nonetheless when you balance the average duck hunter's inability to identify species and sexes consistently, we should toss out the long tradition of one half hour before sunrise. I believe that if we institute a culture of respect for the birds and for the other hunter (eliminate sky busting, competitive calling) the ability to acquire birds past one half hour before sunrise might even increase.

But of course our agencies say that they need to do a scientific study to justify limiting the opening to sunrise, I disagree, I have seen enough dawns in my life. (I am very good at waterfowl identification,) I cannot in many cases tell what I have unless I can hear the birds talking. I have observed many hunting parties who could not even identify birds consistently and accurately after the bird had been brought to hand. (Maybe in Canada where rules were based in part on crop depredations, the other extreme, one half hour after sunset close) has a skinny justification. But even there I question it, I will never feel anything but rage at those hunters (usually yanks in Canada) led by the goose hunting guides as I watched them shoot at every bird returning to a roosting marsh. Many, many, are never retrieved and the vast majority identified only when in hand.

HOW LONG SHOULD A GUNNING DAY LAST

I advocate closing at noon or 1:00 the first 20 days thereafter sunrise to sunset. It may result in less burnout, and actually higher harvest. If it will keep birds in an area those hours may actually increase the kill. Time and again biologists talk about how much energy the birds use up during migration and how critical it is that they be in good condition in the spring in order to have good brood survival. Yet for all of that, in most areas unless there is a designated state or federal refuge near by the birds are harassed constantly. Every private duck club manager rests and rotates the areas shot over to hold birds. Yet most everywhere else (there are exceptions in some public areas that are morning shoots only) the birds are fair game all day long. They need to be allowed regardless of whether they have access to a designated refuge or not to have at least half of the day to rest, feed, and return their vitality.

In summary I advocate a 4 bird maximum limit, (fewer if necessary) 45-day seasons, open at sunrise, close noon (first 20 days).

TECHNOLOGY/ETHICS

The emergence of the so-called spinning wing decoy has focused strong feelings on the role of technology in our approach to duck hunting. The US Fish and Wildlife Service spokespersons on the subject have insisted that they have no role in ethical choices. They constrain themselves to habitat, biology, and as a result bags and length of season. The USWFS, has a point, though I am fairly certain that some of their departed alumni (Aldo Leopold and Ding Darling) might have some strong comments for the folks at US Fish and Wildlife Service on the subject.

I accept that ethics is a difficult subject and what is acceptable varies considerably from culture to culture. I also accept that habitat and climate are the two most critical factors in population determination. It does appear that in some situations however, spinning wing decoys may truly have significant harvest impact.

Why do we do it? Why chance it? (hurting our bird populations) Must we have it all now? Is it wrong not to limit out. Is it not now acceptable to develop skills as a waterfowler. Are we really in such a hurry to get in and get out that we embrace any device that does it more quickly? If getting a lot of shots is the big deal I would highly recommend sporting clays.

To get one bunch of birds in where we want them as a result of location, decoys, and maybe the call, is the real deal! How could it be any better!

Thanks to the few states that are showing some leadership on spinning wing decoys. However, many want a scientific study first. Rather than erring on the side of conservation first, they spend dollars on studies and meanwhile every marsh is stuffed with spinning wing decoys. If the leaders of our public agencies won't help us to find what our approach might be, who will?

The large private non-profits are working so hard to be number one in fund raising that they have little taste for entering any tricky discussions that might offend someone. Batter up anyone?

HOW WE HUNT TODAY

Much of what we do today in the sense of waterfowling behavior is a combination of waterfowling traditions handed to us by a variety of mentors. It varies of course from locale to locale. From salt water to small streams, from very large spreads to a canoe and no decoys. From the pass to the call.

As a kid my main interest was simply to have something to shoot at. Gradually we became aware of how to make decoys, where and how to set them, and what ducks would and would not tolerate. We learned where and how to build blinds. What role did the wind play. When could we expect to see certain species. Which ones decoyed readily and which did not.

We learned how to use a gun, understand shot size delivery differences and gun safety as well as boat safety. We were taught that we had to pitch in at duck camp, chop wood, trap mice, and take our turn at getting the decoys ready, all of that and more.

Slowly we began to learn what ducks needed to exist and terms like conserving entered our vocabulary. We were deeply impacted by our mentors. We discovered calls of all kinds and were joined by dogs of various breeds.

There was a developing progression of knowledge, practical skills, attitude and philosophy. Ducks were on our minds year round, mostly fall and again in the spring, but always with us and we began to be attracted to organizations that laid claim to conserving resources and promoting ducks. Much of that is with us today to greater or lesser degree. However, some things that define who we are as hunters has been impacted significantly by who we are as a society. Our pace of life is often tied to the win at all costs syndrome. Whether it is corporate America, athletics, politics, religion or education, primacy and domination are perceived virtues. Failure isn't acceptable, and taking our time is simply being lazy. So, we hunt and fish replacing simplicity with some of these corporate mentalities, get it done, get in and get out!

A check to a conservation group is a substitute for hours of meetings. And if technology gets us that easy limit, what is wrong with that? If we are so lacking in etiquette that we feel good about pulling those mallards away from the other guys spread with our demand calling we are bound to embrace every device invented to help us along the way toward being number 1, and, of course putting on the brag at the end of the day.

How do we balance growing our skills vs. growing our egos and when is it that simplifying again becomes the draw to hunting and fishing vs. notoriety and money. In many public areas hunters mobilize themselves as much to outfox the other hunters as they do to outfox the birds.

Resulting frustration is revealed in sky busting, arguments, and worse. Can it be replaced with respect, cooperation, honoring, mutual effort to find cripples and a life long dedication to conservation?

HUNTER'S SKILLS

Waterfowling can be one of our more complex outdoor activities. It is its very complexity that attracts and ultimately produces our most competent hunters, however, very few hunters master most of the skill areas. There are at least two skill areas that I believe must be improved, and they are using the gun appropriately, and knowing what you are shooting at. Perhaps a third is a requirement involving a good dog.

If lead poisoning was an opportunity to save 2 - 3 million birds a year by switching to steel, introducing ethics into shooting should save a few million more and add immeasurably to that illusive quality experience.

Since World War II shot shell manufactures have been competing with one another to produce the next best load for velocity, pattern, and range. This is good as far as it goes, but it has been put in the hands of many hunters who substitute range for good hunting techniques, do not put the appropriate perspective on what the newest shot shell is all about, and who therefore, consistently cripple far more than they kill. Often these poor shooters do not even know their target did take a hit. It is one thing to take a slice out of a clay bird and be awarded a dead bird, it is quite another to consistently kill and retrieve what you shoot at.

State and federal agencies along with private non-profits have an enormous opportunity to work with gun clubs, industry, and hunters to do more than trick shooting demonstrations. These agencies and the non-profits, and the private shot manufacturing sector should truly teach what a gun will effectively kill, what it will not, and build the peer pressure of enlightened shot gunning, one of discouraging the buddy who tries to establish a reputation with the long reach.

The potential to return breeding age birds for a second and third chance at production is considerable. Everything we hunt deserves our respect; continuous, flagrant misuse of our guns and our own capabilities is disrespect in the grossest sense of the word.

IDENTIFICATION

Most hunters have even poorer skills identifying ducks, geese, and swans than they do killing them. This is pathetic, but true. Various hunting activities require some sort of orientation/education. Why not waterfowl hunting. Why aren't some of the folks who worry so much about the anti's, become motivated to require every waterfowler to have the equivalent of youth gun safety.

Gun safety has been an overwhelming success story. Why not imitate it in waterfowl identification and skills? Is it not in the best interest of the industry, of the conservation community, or are we going to simply to continue to honor the incompetence that I have observed for almost 60 years?

THE ACCESS ISSUE

As I have stated numerous times most agencies give major emphasis to liberal harvest. This is because biologists receive bias in favor of compensatory kill philosophy in undergraduate studies. Many of them are near retirement before they revise their thinking. They believe liberal bags are the key to license sales.

What good are liberal seasons and limits if there is no place to go, or crowding and behavior degrade the experience, or it simply is not affordable.

Access in many of our outdoor traditions is a major blocker. We are evolving back toward the European system that limited hunting and fishing traditions to people as a result of birthright, riches, or both.

Somewhere between that European experience (largely for the elite) and the original American experience of expected abundance and free access there is a modified model. That modified model must serve us better than today's model. The key, in part, is that hunters have to understand that the free ride is over. Yet we have to create an economic model that permits large participation.

Another key component is the private landowner. Access that generates supplemental income on a willing basis without interference with property rights is critical. Outside the box thinking in public policy is another key. Expanding on a variety of state initiatives, understanding what works, where and how, is imperative.

Rural America is in decline. Many people who feel somewhat trapped in their urban experience yearn to go back in a way that benefits rural folk. They yearn to bird, to hunt, to fish, to recreate. We must put great emphasis on models that allow landowners to keep control and yet strengthen their economic existence by allowing use of their land for hunting and fishing.

We have learned a good deal with some outstanding pioneering among states on access programs for both large game and small game, however the demand far exceeds the availability. We should not continue to have those constrictions. When I was a kid it only took desire, a bike, my parent's permission, and the family dog and a farmer within 3 or 4 miles who would let you on.

IT IS ABOUT ACCESS, NOT ADAPTIVE HARVEST, NOT ABOUT LIBERAL SEASONS, NOT ABOUT COMPUTERS

DE-POLITICIZING THE PROCESS

The "process" for lack of a better term is what I refer to as estimating breeding populations, estimating wetland conditions, estimating broods, which ultimately determines what the fall season will consist of. It (the process) has come a long way and it includes much effort by past and present dedicated public servants. There is a good deal of reasonable rationale in the checks and balances between international, national, state and other interests. It is important to invest in the best waterfowl pros that we have.

It has also become too arcane, too distanced from the resource and the user, too political, too administrative, too confusing, too complex, and too arrogant. It has consistently failed to bring together the bridge of philosophy that appears to divide north and south primarily, and recently due in part to those ulcers, the process has become more and more political and less and less professional.

It is past time to reinvent and reinvest. At a minimum these things need to be done:

1. The north/south issue must be resolved.
2. The process must be brought closer to the hunter.
3. The process must ensure integrity to the mission of conserving the resource.

The process must be opened to advice from enlightened constituents and public servants and it must, it has to be safe from political violation. If these things happen it may be possible to keep the senate majority leader, and the commercial duck clubs from skewing the system.

We may often disagree with our public servants, with the biologists who serve us, but in the long haul in spite of my fundamental disagreement on the issue of compensatory kill, I have more trust in a de-politicized system that engages the pro and the pros constituents.

PREDATORS

Predators are a very important part of our wildlife populations. They provide us with much information about natural systems, they add a good deal to the beauty and dynamics of human interaction with the natural world. Predators strengthen the gene pools of the prey species through their acts of predation. They enrich our lives.

Ducks have, in many areas had their predators gain much advantage over them through reduced habitats available during nesting. In addition new predators have stressed the situation further. Much of this happens as a result of human activities. Biologists tell us that nesting success of 15% is essential to population sustainability.

We learned in the 80's that many areas fall way below 15%. It was observed that some areas heavily invested in by natural resource agencies, and private non-profit investment fall far below the 15% production goal. This is, after substantial delivery of monies.

One group, Delta Waterfowl has experimented with the use of closely monitored trapping, and then comparisons with the same/similar controlled areas. The results suggest very serious consideration be given to enlarging the program.

This creates debate and controversy. It should not. We have come a long way from the ignorance of the past where everything was divided into things we liked and things we did not like. With the things that we supposedly did not like, we very often declared open war without thoughtful, balanced understanding of the impacts of our activities.

In migrating through and away from the old days, we should avoid in these days a new ignorance that in the name of letting nature prevail, allows artificially high numbers of predators to ruin equally important populations of ducks, especially on areas where the management theme, and emphasis, is duck production. There need be no apology for that. There need be, and always should be rational debate about the balance between predator control and landscape management. We do need both.

Landscape management is obvious in its more general use, and impact on large landmasses. Well thought out, well coordinated and targeted predator population reductions appear to be a valuable tool. Unless it is well thought out and every effort is made to educate citizens that it is not a return to disrespect toward predators, it will remain mired in debate and divisiveness.

However the roots of this controversy should not be used by public servants to avoid the issue, nor should the private non profits use it to rekindle old animosities, one against the other.

As we enter the spring of 2003 every indication is that recruitment will be very, very low. Drought appears to have returned with its usual impact of declined bird production while the drainers rekindle their draining activities, under this scenario, tactical, well directed predator control can play a role on the few areas that will have attractive water conditions.

ROLE OF THE PRIVATE NON-PROFIT

Many legendary conservationists centered their passion on waterfowl. Considerable good works have, and are being done. The politics of non-profit humans have led to disagreement, to splits, through the creation of more and more groups. It appears to me that the competition to be number 1, or to be perceived as vital at times has more focus than the resource. Just a short time ago many economists were lauding balanced state and federal budgets, the economy, and unprecedented philanthropy. Today we have rapidly reversed in all three categories and it is clear that cooperation will be more vital than ever.

Results oriented investments in habitat recovery must be the rule. Spreading dollars a mile wide and an inch deep resulting in much pork and few ducks must be challenged. Using dollars to leverage important watershed projects (duck dollars) must be challenged. Do they truly produce ducks? If not, the dollars must be spent in the name of watershed restorations (valuable in their own right), and not misconstrued as part of the North American Waterfowl Conservation Plan.

MINNESOTA ISSUES

My home state of Minnesota has had a great tradition of waterfowling and has long been one of the leaders in both duck stamp sales and duck hunting enthusiasm. The state of Minnesota has done a great job of supporting organizations like the Minnesota Waterfowl Association and Ducks Unlimited, and was the first state under the leadership of organizations such as the Izaak Walton League to begin a wetlands protection program.

In spite of all of those positives, Minnesota today has many challenges. In the southern half of the state agriculture has succeeded in destroying most wetlands habitat. As one crisscrosses southern Minnesota you will see with monotonous regularity, drainage ditches which are connected to miles and miles of drain tiles. The habitats, with the exception of a few enlightened landowners and public investments in wildlife management areas are a monotonous desert of monoculture.

The water bodies that remain are substantially degraded by the same impacts of urban and rural domination. Eutrophication, introduction of exotic species, both plant and fish species significantly impact negatively the waterfowl production capability of those production areas.

Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources has ambitious, and well thought out plans to turn it around. However the best intentions under optimal funding economics would take a long time. More likely we will continue a decline unless there are some significant changes in priorities.

SUGGESTIONS FOR MINNESOTA

Many of our best areas lack a proactive designation of lakes, basins, rivers, and regions that historically fostered waterfowl. We need an inventory, and then a priority, and commitment that we are willing to preserve certain areas for waterfowl over boating, fishing, etc. This includes water level management, fish species control, and adjacent upland habitat management.

Minnesota's population is expanding faster than most states in the upper mid-west. Much of that population impacts waterfowl production potential by encroaching on environmentally sensitive lakes, sloughs, and rivers. We cannot, (we must understand) have it all. Our landforms are finite, human development must be much more compatible with being easy on the land, with mitigating the problems. This will be extremely difficult as Minnesota like much of the United States has become increasingly more conservative in the last quarter of a century. Another result of this phenomena has been attempting to move political power from large centralized authorities (federal and state) to "local government". If local government is to have more say, then local government must be held accountable, must become much more proactive in being stewards of our environments.

Access is a huge issue in Minnesota. Due to degradation of much of its habitats, flight pattern changes, lack of available places to hunt, Minnesota's hunters have streamed north and west to the Prairie Provinces, to the Dakotas. The impact of that is now being seen in the legislative debates in North Dakota restricting non-resident hunters. Of course non-resident discrimination is a popular sport in many states. Minnesota must develop an aggressive access program; yet as is consistent with the value we place on property rights, promote respect for property owner's rights.

Minnesota definitely should pursue an aggressive campaign to look for opportunities for non-motorized ingress and egress in shallow sloughs and lakes. This would likely allow for improved quality experiences by allowing even more hunters to access a given area without impacting each other as significantly as a few high-speed boats currently may. We should establish areas closed to fishing on some of our large lakes that have diver traditions.

Minnesota must begin to plan now to invest significantly more now than it ever has in waterfowl management. This may seem like a ridiculous statement in the face of a five billion dollar deficit, however I would point out that while we knew that the good times would not last forever, the same is true with the current budget constrictions. The resource needs are very significant, the road to recovery is a very long road and without realistic financial support it is merely talk, we will continue inevitably to see our resource ebb away, our hunters decline, everyone will lose.

Summary

In conclusion we must all work better at creating more financial resources for habitat restorations. We must be willing to be vocal on ethical issues. We do not need to have a system of seasons that attempt to "surgically" optimize kill. Private and public conservation agencies need to work together to produce a future hunter that is more knowledgeable, and more skilled. Private and public agencies must work together with landowners to provide better access, to encourage landowners to invest in better stewardship practices effecting waterfowl populations, and perhaps as a result actually enhance many declining rural economies. We should resist discrimination against non-residents, while at the same time recognize that this will never change if either individual hunting groups or commercial groups or both, conspire to tie up large tracts of hunting availability and in the process exclude local residents from their cultural traditions. We must expand our enforcement capability. We must be concerned about our bird's health on the southward migration, not just wintering habitat, and spring return. We must redouble all efforts to retain existing wetlands, especially in the prairie pothole country the small, seasonal, so called non-contiguous wetlands, and also redouble our efforts to restore wetlands that have been drained.

We need to be less concerned about who gets credit, but work better together as a total community, a shared agenda, a courtesy and a respect for each other, and we must be willing to support our public servants in each of our states and at the federal level as they attempt to think outside of the box, to pioneer new ideas and innovations, not let them hang out on a limb and even help saw it off when what were thought to be good ideas do not result in good results. All of us, need to be encouraged, to create, to take risk, along with that we know that there will be failures but ultimately more successes.

North America must be brought more closely together. The northern hunter needs to understand the perceptions of the southern hunter and visa versa.

Minnesota should initiate a conference or conferences among waterfowl enthusiasts, and among conservationists and environmentalists to do the kind of investment in program innovation that is demanded if we are to come close to the goals and vision being articulated by our wildlife divisions today.

All of this must be built around a culture of great respect for the resource. Too often, I am exposed to people who only think about shooting the limit, criticizing the public agencies, and procuring every "advantage" that might allow them to get more birds.

A new day is possible, but it is not very probable without substantial behavior modification in state and federal public policy, in public agency management leadership, in private non-profit organizations, and in the duck hunting community as well. Unless we modify our behavior in a very positive way, and very broadly, there will not be enough left to have a tradition to pass on to the youngsters at the Duluth Izaak Walton League Youth Waterfowl Clinic, those 50 - 60 kids we work with each fall, most of them so very eager to learn about, and to experience what we have been privileged to know in our generation.

I am sending this to you because I believe that you have as great an interest in these traditions as I do. I would be interested in your reactions to this short essay of the problem, and of some of the recommended actions to be taken. Believe me, even if you think I am way off the mark, your input will be appreciated.

By Dave Zentner
 

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This was a wonderful piece of work, and it appeared first on my website, which is, I presume, where Fetch copied it.

Dave Zentner has taken a well-thought look at waterfowling; where we're at and where, unless we change course, we might be headed. Try as I might, I cannot find even small places where I disagree with him.

This is the approach I believe we need to adopt. Look beyond small local issues. Think instead of broad strokes, all intended to broaden our outlook and do what, over the long haul, is best for ducks and the sport we love.

I believe Dave's essay ought to be required reading for all duck hunters. Moreover, all should read Norman Seymour's "The Education of a Duck Hunter," available from the Minnesota Waterfowl Association.

There are no easy answers.

Tony Dean
 
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