December 31st, 2007 19:21 EST
Wildlife Conservation: Why Waterfowl?
Note to readers: This articles marks the beginning of my "100 Stories for the Ducks" series detailing problems and solutions dealing with waterfowl conservation. I have pledged to write 100 articles over the course of the next five years appearing in publications ranging from Texas Fish & Game to the local newspapers (Port Arthur News and Orange Leader) that I write for. I have chosen the SOP to debut the series and will publish many of the key stories here.---Chester Moore
"Conservation" by definition means, “the careful utilization of a natural resource in order to prevent depletion.”
For that cause, hunters have been at the forefront, contributing billions toward habitat management, research and law enforcement. We have done so not only to ensure populations of the game we pursue are at levels high enough to justify hunting, but also for it to be at equilibrium with its habitat.
Much of this funding comes from license fees, permits and excise taxes on sporting goods voluntarily accepted by the sport hunting community to give wildlife a fighting chance in the face of modern man’s expansion and innovations. Billions more come from voluntary donations along with millions of volunteer hours committed to raise those funds, restore habitat and promote interest in the sport.
In regards to this, I have on more than one occasion been asked, “Why Waterfowl?”
What these people really mean is, “Why do you do so much for ducks and geese when there are so many other game species like deer, turkey, elk, quail, sheep, pheasant and bear?” This is not a simple question to answer, but the reasons are clear, concise and convincing to anyone willing to listen with an open mind.
Out of all game pursued in North America, waterfowl are among the most vulnerable. They are highly migratory, traveling through multiple states with some species visiting multiple countries, and this poses a number of issues. Pintails, for example, are a species well below their long-term population average and they are being hit on both ends.
Changes in agriculture in Canada have greatly decreased nesting success, while the loss of rice in Texas may be contributing to the late migration of birds back north and their overall poor health. Turkeys, by comparison, are territorial-- meaning they are born and die in the same general area they are born, and are at their highest levels in most states in recorded history. Due to their widespread range and adaptability, the future of wild turkeys is fairly secure.
Amazing groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation are making sure of that. Waterfowl species are not as secure since the vast majority nest in the prairie pothole and boreal forest regions of the U.S. and Canada. Their breeding numbers are concentrated in these areas and a drought that affects one species will affect them all. Ditto for changes in land usage.
Waterfowl are not very adaptable, whereas species like whitetail deer can literally live and breed successfully in large metropolitan areas. Ducks in particular need native grasslands and other highly specialized habitat to survive. Deer can live in the shadow of the largest cities in the face of change, while ducks are highly susceptible to man’s environmental tinkering.
Perhaps more importantly, the conservation of waterfowl equals the conservation of many species. Water is the source of life and it is the key element in duck production. Take away water, you have no ducks or roseate spoonbills, or bald eagles or muskrats or otters or mink or hundreds of other organisms.
While conservation efforts directed toward many species are specific to them, efforts to conserver waterfowl are kind of like a shotgun approach. What benefits the mallard also benefits dozens of other species ranging from birds to reptiles, amphibians and mammals as well. Dollars spent conserving ducks conserve just about everything in need of clean water, healthy marshes, sprawling grasslands and mature forests.
A final reason for waterfowl conservation is the public. Deer and elk hunting prices have skyrocketed in recent years, and species like sheep have been out of the reach of the average hunter for decades. No one owns the sky and therefore waterfowl are still truly a public resource that is within reach of hunters from the low to the high end of the income scale. There are millions of acres of public waterways and marsh available to hunt for a nominal fee and many times, they are totally free, contributing to a waterfowl-hunting renaissance.
This has been proven in my home state of Texas where waterfowl hunter numbers increased from 60,000 in 1990 to more than 130,000 by 2000, at the same time deer hunter numbers tapered off a bit.
By keeping duck and goose populations healthy, the tradition of hunting can be passed from one generation to another even as the cost of the sport skyrockets. Yes, waterfowl hunting is more expensive now too, but in comparison to other species, it is still by far the most affordable and accessible.
I wholeheartedly support groups like the Safari Club International, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep as they do a magnificent job safeguarding their chosen game and have done so with great passion and resourcefulness. They are to be more than commended.
However, as a hunter who pursues many species, I have chosen to dedicate the bulk of my personal game conservation efforts toward waterfowl and working with groups like Ducks Unlimited. For the reasons listed above, I find it to be the most crucial avenue of resource protection in North America and that which benefits not only the most species and habitat, but also those who care the most: the hunters.
There is also the personal element, as I must admit to fantasies of hearing the whistling wings of blue-winged teal and watching mallards circle a set of decoys and then come in with wings up and feet outstretched.
Yes, those are the things my hunting dreams are made of... but to make them continue to be a reality, much work needs to be done. We are now at a point where we can ensure the rich tradition of waterfowl hunting for future generations or allow it to pass by the wayside, and along with it crucial elements of our natural environment. We have the opportunity to either seize the day and take our conservation efforts to a new level or simply turn our backs.
I’ve already my choice. Have you?
(Chester Moore is Executive Editor of Texas Fish & Game and author of the newly released Texas Waterfowl, available by ordering direct at 281-227-3001, at Academy Sports and Outdoors stores and on Amazon.com online. Twenty percent of the author’s proceeds will go to Ducks Unlimited projects in Texas and the nesting grounds. To learn more about Chester's latest project, the Texas Duc Tour, go to http://www.myspace.com/texasducktour)