For the Birds Radio Program: Waterfowl Hunting Violations
(Recording of a Mallard)
One of the most disturbing items of news on the bird front that I’ve read in a long time is the series of articles by Dennis Anderson about duck hunting law violations in last month’s St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch. Last week I watched a videotaped movie about duck hunting violations, which further aroused my ire. America’s waterfowl is in serious trouble. Duck populations in general are down 60% from the 1940’s, while the number of duck hunters has more than doubled. Hunters have long decried the loss of wetland habitat as the prime culprit, claiming that they’re merely harvesting the surplus population. But currently there’s more wetland habitat in the U.S. and Canada than the ducks are using–it’s pretty clear to anyone who looks at the situation objectively that hunting itself is now the limiting factor in duck populations.
Hunters have long defended their sport by saying it’s they who provide the money to protect habitat, and that sportsmen’s groups are conscientious about educating hunters and policing themselves. But in 1985, the most respected duck hunting organization of all, Ducks Unlimited, refused to publish a study they themselves had commissioned by Nicoletta Barrie about hunting abuses in Louisiana. And in the 1986-87 season, federal agents arrested a former Ducks Unlimited national trustee for violating game laws in Louisiana. He now admits that from the time he was a child he violated bag limits, as does everyone else he knows.
Louisiana, where many of the Northland’s ducks spend their winters, is one of the worst states for hunting violations. But not all of Wisconsin and Minnesota hunters are innocent bystanders. A 1979 study at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse showed that fully 20% of Wisconsin and Minnesota hunters who didn’t realize they were being watched violated at least one game law. The worst violators are not the uninformed—the LaCrosse study showed that the typical violator was more likely than a non-violator to belong to sportsmen’s organizations, read technical waterfowl magazines, and score high on waterfowl identification tests.
Something clearly has to be done before it’s too late— already the populations of several duck species are at all-time lows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a mandate to manage migratory birds for all of us—not just the relatively few who shoot them. Birdwatchers, people who stroll through parks, and city-bound people who can only see wild ducks in their mind’s eye have as legitimate a stake in this as the decent hunters who respect both their prey and the law of the land. I’m afraid that the greed of poachers may bring many duck species to the same terrible end as the Passenger Pigeon and the Dusky Seaside Sparrow.
Maybe we should place a moratorium on waterfowl hunting in at least one of the four flyways in the United States, and reduce bag-limits by a large proportion in another flyway, for, say, two years. Then we could settle once and for all whether hunting is actually the limiting factor, and what kind of kills can safely be sustained. But I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for any real action to be taken. As one hunter put it, “Nobody left me any buffalo to shoot. Why should I leave anyone any ducks?”
(Recording of a Mallard)
This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”