IN 2013, WATERFOWL HUNTERS on the prairies of the Middle Coast suffered the first real casualty of drought in many years among Texas’s hunting community.
For a time, the Lower Colorado River Authority prohibited “duck water” being sold to landowners and leaseholders. In other words, there was not enough water for extracurricular activities.
This sent shockwaves throughout the Lone Star State, as several of the counties involved are the most heavily hunted in the state. Groups such as Ducks Unlimited (DU) got involved because it affected tens of thousands of acres of wetlands and scores of hunters.
Water is the new gold.
With Texas’s population growing at a rapid pace, its value will continue to increase, and the struggle between wildlife and sporting needs will pop up all over the state. It is not a matter of if, but when. The fact of the matter is, people’s needs will win every time.
Something like this is coming on a much grander scale. It centers on the prairie pothole region of North Dakota, South Dakota and prairie Canada. That region has been at least fairly wet (and in recent years very wet) for better than two decades, and that will not hold. At some point, perhaps in the very near future, the region will suffer a drought. When it does, what happened a few years back in the LCRA counties will look like a minor squabble.
The vast majority of mallards, pintails, gadwall, shovelers and other key waterfowl in the Central Flyway is born and raised there. When a prolonged drought comes, duck production goes down in a major way.
That will translate to two immediate things—smaller bag limits and a shorter season.
It will probably cause a drop in duck hunter numbers.
I started duck hunting 22 years ago. Not a single hunter who started during that timeframe has ever experienced anything less than a five-bird limit or long seasons.
How many will keep hunting if the limit is cut to three and the season is shortened to, say—30 days?
My suspicion is a good portion of these hunters, particularly those under age 30, will use it as an excuse to bail on an increasingly expensive sport.
That will translate to fewer duck stamps sold and less money for conservation along with a host of other problems.
We have raised at least two generations of totally limit-driven hunters, who instead of learning about conservation and ecology, many are now more worried about tweeting “Five man limit this morning!” Every generation has had limit-driven hunters, but this one has social media to push it to a new level.
I have discussed this with several leaders in local, regional and national waterfowl circles and everyone is concerned. A few have said, “Good, it will get rid of the riff raff.”
To a certain point that is true. The handful of unethical hunters who disobey the rules and cause problems will probably focus their attention elsewhere. However, it also could be a breaking point for the long-standing and conservation-centered tradition of duck hunting.
That’s why it’s vitally important to teach your children about the value of wetlands and how migration itself, works. These are the hunters who will enjoy their quest no matter the season length or limit. They’ll wait until a wet cycle returns and rejoice.
I hope we never have that giant Great Plains drought, but history tells us we are due. When will it happen? It could be next year, or it could be 10 years from now, but in the interim, we should do our best to educate this generation about waterfowl conservation.
We do have some reason for concern. The prairies were dry this year and numerous species were down by fairly large percentages. What will happen if there are dry prairies for three years? Five years?
I believe there are five key things we can do to give back ducks.
1. Buy A Duck Stamp: This story’s sidebar will explain in more detail the impact of duck stamps, but whether you duck hunt or not, buying a duck stamp has a rich history of aiding waterfowl conservation in a measurable way.
2. Support Conservation Groups: Supporting groups such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl, not only means habitat is positively conserved and enhanced, but that policy is dealt with that impacts wetlands and prairies in Washington, Austin and in Canada where many of our ducks come from. Even supporting the Coastal Conservation Association aids ducks indirectly as efforts to bolster seagrass makes a big difference for redheads and other species of the grass flats.
3. Pass On Hens: When species that are well below the long-term average take a population dip, making a concerted effort to not shoot hens could make a difference. In boom years it may not matter, but in bust years it can make a difference. Passing on species such as mottled ducks that are already greatly restricted would help.
4. Volunteer: Volunteering for habitat restoration and enhancement projects on federal and state refuges helps agencies already strapped for cash to do things that would otherwise be impossible. We can be agents of change for the sake of wildlife, if we put some skin in the game.
5. Raise Awareness: Use social media and even conversations to spread the news of waterfowl conservation and let others know the importance of healthy wetlands. #Hashtags can help waterfowl and other wildlife if combined with cash and creativity.
This is a vitally important issue, not only for the ducks, but for all creatures that utilize the wetlands we conserve in their name. We can all step up to the plate and make a real difference.
Why You Need to Buy a Duck Stamp
FOR EVERY DOLLAR you spend on Federal Duck Stamps, 98 cents goes directly to purchase vital habitat or acquire conservation easements for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Since 1934, six million acres have been acquired using Federal Duck Stamp revenues. More than 300 national wildlife refuges were created or have been expanded using Federal Duck Stamp dollars. At least one refuge in nearly every state has benefitted from Duck Stamp dollars.
By law, proceeds from the sale of Federal Duck Stamps are deposited into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which was established specifically to provide the Department of the Interior with monies to acquire migratory bird habitat.
The Migratory Bird Conservation Commission oversees the expenditure of Federal Duck Stamp funds and other monies in the fund to purchase and lease wetland habitat. The commission also reviews the use of Federal Duck Stamp dollars to purchase small natural wetlands and associated uplands for preservation as Waterfowl Production Areas.
—story by CHESTER MOORE