Waterfowl and those taking aim both belong on endangered list

OUTDOORS

July 23, 1991|By Bill Burton

One endangered species leads to another, maybe even another, and still another. In reality, it matters not that the term "endangered" is stretching a point; at this time "troubled" species would be more appropriate.

LTC But, with few exceptions, it's a one-way street. Troubled leads to the official term "threatened" and then to "endangered" -- the last stop before "extinct."

Whoa. I'm getting ahead of myself -- and maybe in these torrid, parched days of late July much of the pessimism is a shake-out from prevailing weather, which certainly is suitable for neither waterfowl nor man. But, digesting the latest federal duck and goose status reports gives one indigestion.

Waterfowl surveys are primarily a numbers game -- the number of birds that fly north to nest, the number that fly south to winter, the percentage that hatch successfully, the percentage that survive shooting, the number of acres of wetlands that remain viable for nesting, and the list goes on, including hunter success rate.

Over the long haul, the trend is downward for all. Maybe a respite of a season or two for some, possibly even a brief, fleeting gain for others. But, overall, the trend is obvious. Downward -- slowly with some, faster with others, but downward nonetheless.

What else can we expect? Industrial, residential and agricultural pressure on both nesting and wintering habitat -- and also along migratory routes -- is obvious. So are the effects of acid rain, other pollutants, glacier-like changes in weather, maybe even global warming.

The waterfowl we see hereabouts pitching into frigid waters, or eking out an existence in snow-covered fields personifies robust health and endurance, but in reality the life cycle of ducks and geese is complicated and fragile, especially on the nesting grounds. Almost everything has to go right -- and for the most part, water is the key.

So, we can expect this downward slide among fowl. But, what about among hunters? Another trend is evident.

Seven years ago, 44,363 purchased federal duck stamps in Maryland. Last year, 28,516 did; that's down 16 percent from 34,062 in 1989.

Where are these waterfowlers who self-righteously proclaim it isn't the kill that's important, it's just being out there, away from the phone, the pressure cooker of life, and instead just watching and drinking in the outdoors?

Can the waterfowler himself be included in that one-way street list from troubled to threatened, and then endangered? Admittedly, it's not as important as the trend among fowl, but it is troublesome. Let's face it; without waterfowler support -- individual shooters, Ducks Unlimited, Waterfowl USA and the like -- who is there to fight for the fowl?

Certainly not our legislators on the local, state or national level. They are intimidated by the pressures of forestry, agriculture, cattle ranchers, industry, development and such? Who's going to mind the store? Someone has to. Let's do an inventory based on the latest figures of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In Maryland, the Canada goose harvest -- despite little change in the regulations -- dipped 25 percent, to about 67,000 from 90,750 in '89. Did that turn hunters off?

Snow goose success improved slightly to 16,250 from 15,885. Brant showed a decline of 30 percent to 11,605. The coot harvest jumped sixfold, but still totaled only 390.

The seasonal goose harvest per adult hunter dropped to 2.32 from 2.56; total hunter days for all waterfowlers dipped 6 percent to 182,316, though the individual hunter -- the diehard -- spent 6.6 days afield as compared with 5.78 in '89.

On the duck side of the ledger, the kill dropped 9 percent to 106,894 from 117,337. The mallard bag was the leader in the decline down to 32,485 from 56,028. Domestic mallard kills -- barnyard and state releases -- dropped almost out of sight. The prized black duck showed a loss; down to about 10,000 from 15,000.

Why go on? It just gets worse. Flights that once blacked out the sun hardly cast a shadow, and we are witnessing it in our relatively short span on this earth.

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