Duck Hunting Democracy

My native state just changed a bunch of rules intended to protect ducks and geese in season, some designed as management tools to keep birds around longer, protect overnight roosts, soften impacts on smaller lakes and wetlands and take pressure off early-season birds. The “rules” that were dismissed by the DNR were originally designed to IMPROVE hunting. And there is no doubt that in a state with a whole lot of duck hunters, the now discarded rules did just that.

One lifted rule, for example, had previously barred goose hunters in specific areas from hunting over water. I’ve seen this type of change firsthand. I lived in the Brainerd area when goose hunting over water was banned, and I also lived there the ban was lifted. When the ban was lifted the goose hunting took a dramatic nose dive. Why? No refuge for locals or migrators.

I could go on about a new Minnesota early teal season (Sept. 4, five days), opening the same day as early goose opens, adding another day to the youth hunting opener (Sept. 12-13) followed by the regular season opener (Sept. 25)—good luck finding a willing duck on the opener.

What puzzles me more is the justification for the changes. Those who have hunted for a number of years know that waterfowl hunting rules always have been created and enforced for the benefit of the birds. Banning lead shot, closing canvasback hunting, shortening the number of days nationwide, and on and on. Nobody asked for our approval in making these changes. Until now, apparently.

Steve Cordits, the Minnesota DNR’s waterfowl coordinator, pointed to a rushed public opinion survey that supports his rule changes. Okay, maybe. The entire survey leaves a lot of gray area. Only about a thousand people participated in the survey (there are more than 60,000 waterfowl hunters in the state) and the “vote” for changes was carried by only a small fraction.

Here’s the real problem. Hunting’s regulatory body should be regulating, not pandering to every person that buys a hunting license. The job of state and federal agencies charged with managing and protecting our natural resources is to manage and protect those resources. This is no place for a democratic system—majority rules. What’s best for the RESOURCE is best for the resource, and ultimately best for the end user—hunters.

Look at the states with the best big game hunting. Then don’t set quotas based on random hunter polls to appease the majority. Hey, two elk for every hunter! Great suggestion!

Want to know why Minnesota has lost so many duck hunters? Fewer ducks. A poor job of managing the resource—that is what’s real.

Agencies like the Minnesota DNR are frantic over diminished license sales and thus diminished staffing and funds to support their departments, and we need to find a solution that helps them. But giving away the resource in order to sell a few more licenses, if it even works out that way, is not the answer. Managing a resource should consider hunters’ opinions, but management can’t be a democratic process. Taking a vote on how we should regulate waterfowl hunting is not sound wildlife management. Heck, in that case, raise your hand if you like punt guns!