Waterfowl Research: Hunter's Friend or Foe?

The history of waterfowl conservation has been a story of making assumptions, performing research, changing those assumptions, and adjusting regulations and conservation strategy as a result. However, hunters are sometimes hesitant towards research in general because they fear that research may lead to a reduction in their bag limits, a shortening in their season, or a placement of a number of unwanted restrictions on their favorite pastime. However, we should always welcome and support waterfowl and wetland research, because if done rightly, it should predominantly work in the hunter’s (and the ducks’) favor.

Jim Ringelman and Bruce Batt give us an example from the past. Before market hunting of waterfowl was abolished in the early 20th century, unregulated harvests caused many bird species to decline. After commercial hunting was finally abolished in 1918, many conservationists set their sights on sport hunters, believing that their harvests were also contributing to the demise of waterfowl species. This concern would naturally lead to strict bag limits and shorter seasons. However, in 1976, waterfowl researchers used mallard banding data and new analytical approaches to study the mortality of waterfowl in the wild. What they found was a breath of fresh air for hunters.

A new paradigm emerged from this research: the mortality from hunting was compensatory to the mortality of birds in the wild. In other words, several of the birds harvested by hunters would have died from natural causes within the year anyway. Therefore, sport hunters should not be seen as a negative force in the reduction of species, because many of these birds they harvested wouldn’t have made it through the year anyways. This paradigm continues to guide contemporary waterfowl regulations, and is continually used hand-in-hand with decisions on limits, seasons, and other regulations.

In short, hunters shouldn’t view waterfowl and conservation research as their enemy. Often times, it turns out, it can be a close ally!

*For more information, checkout "The Evolving Science of Waterfowl Conservation" in Ducks Unlimited, Nov./Dec. 2017, pp. 44-45. Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service


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