Just quackers: Hunting decline lands ducks in the soup

 
mallard ducks The numbers of duck hunters in the US is declining but it may not be good news for the birds.

A farming friend of mine makes a wry point about the evolution of cattle.

He says that despite their dumb reputation they have adopted an extremely successful survival strategy - by making themselves tasty to meat-eating humans.

The introduction of horse into that equation hasn't changed this fundamental point.

Another species that humans like to eat is duck. Unfortunately for the duck, humans like to hunt them as well, for what some call "sport".

But while many people find hunting repugnant, new research from the US suggests that shooting ducks has actually been rather good for the species.

Glory days for ducks

Dr Mark Vrtiska and colleagues at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently published research in the Wildlife Society Bulletin saying that organised and licensed hunting has boosted the amount of money being spent of conservation.

More than two million hunters paid for a "duck stamp," a federal licence to shoot the creatures in the 1970s. The researchers say that 98% of the money raised is spent on purchasing or leasing habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

According to Dr Vrtiska this has had a hugely beneficial impact on the birds.

President Clinton duck hunting Former President Bill Clinton took part in duck hunting expeditions while in office.

"The waterfowl population has passed 40 million six times since 1995. These should be glory days for duck hunting" he said.

But there are clouds on this happy horizon. Sales of duck stamps are declining, down to 1.3m in 2008, and they continuing to fall by around 30% annually.

In the good old days the number of hunters and the number of birds rose and fell in balance with each other. But no longer.

"Because the relationship appears to be broken we've lost a lot of funding and in turn lost a lot of habitat conservation on the ground," Dr Vrtiska told me.

"The carrying capacity of the lands to produce ducks is going to be significantly reduced without that conservation funding being there."

Good weather for ducks

The problem is there hasn't been enough good weather for ducks. Drought has had a significant impact across the US in the past few years. The duck stamp money helped construct the right types of habitat so that when it did eventually rain, the birds were able to reproduce successfully.

Ruddy duck The sale of licences to hunt ruddy ducks and other birds raises millions of dollars.

"You can't buy rain, but the money allows you to set the table," says Dr Vrtiska.

The researchers aren't optimistic that the numbers of duck hunters will ever rise again, due to changing cultural and social factors. So the scientists are seeking other ways to boost revenues. They are discussing different types of licences, for people to shoot birds, but not just with guns.

"We have to be more amenable to different levels of participation, for people to shoot, view or hunt - We are trying to find innovative solutions - perhaps a basic stamp to go and view birds, perhaps a more expensive full season ticket for hunting," he added.

Is this just about preserving the rights of people to blast the birds from the sky?

"It's about preserving ducks, habitats and the tradition of hunting. They are inter-dependant, I don't see how to get around one without the other two."

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Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 52.

    I am not sure whether I wanted to die for the ducks as well.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 51.

    50.Cariboo
    I eat meat, black bear is good.
    **
    Actually bear's much better than most wild duck where we live.Bears are increasing due to conservation efforts but are still legal game in several US states.Some areas have a few too many bear.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    46.speed_of_dark

    In fact I make regular donations to environmental and wildlife charities as well as some people ones."

    I'm vegan, into animal rights, environmental issues and human rights. How about you?
    ---
    Been a member of the BC Wildlife Federation for 35 years. Volunteered on several wild life projects over the years, mainly lake rehabilitation/improvements. I eat meat, black bear is good.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 49.

    It is a symbiotic relationship between predator and prey, as natural and global as any other aspect of animal life.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 48.

    When you understand the psychology, at the most basic level of how humans function and behind the behaviour of killing anything at all then the reality of what we are, and how far we have come is staring you in the face. We're not above the animals. 'They'/We leech and benefit from their misery for financial gains and fun. That's a sickness of the ego on a global scale.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 47.

    Killed it? Cook it and eat it then... Ok.

    Killing for 'sport's medieval.

    Conserve by taking money from paying animals. Conserve by respect.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    25 Cariboo

    In fact I make regular donations to environmental and wildlife charities as well as some people ones.

    I'm vegan, into animal rights, environmental issues and human rights. How about you?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 45.

    Just for reference, Federal permits only apply to hunting on land owned by the Federal govt., which is mostly west of the Mississippi in the mountain states. You can hunt ducks just fine under State laws in other parts of the country.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 44.

    In view of the 'hugely beneficial impact' on ducks, perhaps they should start shooting people as well? Of course, they do. Must be why the human population is rising.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 43.

    Unless you are a vegetarian ( and, yes, I am) it is utterly hypocritical to have anything at all against duck hunters. The amount of obscene suffering inside abertoirs is far worse than shooting an animal in its natural environment. It is just hidden. In my opinion anything hunted and killed should be eaten, or for legitimate pest control (not posh people on horses with dogs).

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    41 swcons - I would say anyone who is willing to eat meat but criticises those who kill their own to be somewhat of a hypocrite.
    Although saying that, the livliest thing I've killed has been a lobster.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 41.

    As always, when the issue of hunting is concerned, a considerable amount of ignorance is show by the antis. The majority of which are no doubt happy to load their shopping trolleys full of meat and contribute little themselves to wildlife conservation beyond their worthless keyboard activism exploits.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 40.

    Its amusing to see The Elmer Fudd brigade marking down those of us who like to observe the natural world rather than play with guns.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 39.

    re.#38Scott0962
    It says that people place a higher value on food than they do on scenery. Why is that so surprising?

    I think the point is that people kill ducks for pleasure not just for food.
    Glad to see the Americans are growing out of it though.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 38.

    re. #23.speed_of_dark:
    "What does it say about the human race that peope are willing to pay money for a license to kill but wouldn't be willing to pay the same money to preserve wildlife without the opportunity to slaughter some of it?"

    It says that people place a higher value on food than they do on scenery. Why is that so surprising?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 37.

    @31. rtingle
    :) sarcasm is wonderful :)

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 36.

    @34. stereotonic
    #you have a point about the licences. The government does not own ducks, fish etc etc etc that it licences. The stupid lazy can't be bothered to argue or think before we vote public are the idiots that have allowed it all!
    I have little problem hunting for food (if you can kill clean and well), but tearing foxes apart with hounds for 'fun' is not acceptable.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 35.

    Well if this isn't our basic delima - wildlife and natural spaces having value as plunder, but not in their own right. The problem here is certainly not one of less hunters, its a change of attitude that is needed.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 34.

    Licences so annoy me. Ducks have been around thousands of years, so who said in the first instance 'you can't hunt duck's'? Why not just forget the 'hunting' and protect the habitat? Hunting seems so barbaric. . . . . A bunch of hoity's out for a shindig and paying stupid money for the 'fun' aspect of it. I believe that you should only take what you are going to consume

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 33.

    @3 - Apples & Oranges - ducks & pandas. Pandas has a myriad of problems sustaining populations - beyond habitat. Ducks do just fine with enough of the right habitat. The problem for ducks is that there is always someone who wants to 'develop' that habitat. The Boris Island airport comes to mind...Hunting competes with those other 'options' Hunting fees save more ducks than hunters take!

 

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