Mikulski's Misfire at Sitting Ducks

September 29, 1993

Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is not the sort of person you envision sitting in a duck blind on a fall morning blasting away with both barrels at a sord of hapless captive mallards.

But she has taken aim with her legislative shotgun to shoot down the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's effort to limit this kind of fish-in-a-barrel "sport" favored by the rich and powerful.

Ms. Mikulski has authored an amendment that would halt the Fish and Wildlife Service from cracking down on the private preserves where the wealthy can shoot tame, hand-fed ducks at will. That amendment to the Interior Department appropriations bTC bill was not passed by the House. A conference committee meets tomorrow to resolve differences between House and Senate versions. Responsible, sensible legislators should swiftly kill the Mikulski rider.

The federal agency wants to review the rules on Regulated Shooting Areas, most of which are on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The wildlife service cites growing concerns about potential disease transmission from captives to wild flocks, dilution of wild genetic stock by inter-breeding and the thorny issues of whether captive mallards are being used as illegal live decoys for wildfowl.

Natural resources agencies from 49 states and Canada endorse the Fish and Wildlife Service review. Maryland is the lone holdout, instead urging new state rules to certify the health of captive ducks and limit unhealthy crowding of tame ducks.

Dorchester County is the heart of the tame-duck shooting industry, with 40,000 acres and more than 100 full-time employees, plus hundreds of others dependent on its business.

Senator Mikulski argues that any rules should await completion next year of a three-year study of captive mallards. This study, however, does not deal with the key issue of waterfowl disease, only with ecology and travel patterns.

Although not an official member of the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus, which supports more killing of whales and deer as well as tame ducks, Ms. Mikulski has often voted with it. Washington interest-peddlers own a number of these easy-shooting preserves, where the caucus members indulge themselves as a cost-free perk. The issue, as Maryland's junior senator well understands, is about more than avian ecology: it's about more bang for the big bucks.

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