Ducks scarce; gunners go after resident geese

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1993:

Migratory waterfowl populations
are down again, according to the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, continuing a 20-year
slump, during which mallards, the most
commonly hunted species, have declined
33%. This year’s fall duck count of 59 mil-
lion is the lowest on record, down 4.8%
from last year, when the count of 62 mil-
lion matched the then-record low first
reached in 1985. Goose and swan numbers
increased slightly in most areas, but the
Atlantic and southern James Bay flights of
Canada geese fell––the latter by 28%.
More than 100 million ducks flew
south each year in the 1970s, and 74 mil-
lion as recently as 1987, when the U.S.
and Canada set up the $1.5 billion, 12-year
North American Waterfowl Management
Plan to try to rebuild the population.

So far, the effort is failing. The
Louisiana-based Delta Waterfowl
Foundation recently reported that hunters
have been killing more adult ducks than
juveniles for 20 years, the reverse of what
would happen if the duck population was
growing. The same could be true of geese
and swans, but the data needed to know is
presently unavailable.
“Given that we are now shooting
the adults,” New Orleans Times-Picayune
hunting writer Bob Marshall asked his
readers recently, “and knowing the
remaining adults are unable to offset each
year’s losses, how long can we continue,
in good conscience, to hunt?”
But conscience apparently isn’t
bothering many hunters, who blame
increasing predator pressure and habitat
loss for the waterfowl decline. Certainly
habitat loss is a major factor. Predator
pressure on waterfowl increases, however,
as flocks diminish, with fewer members
left to watch and give warning while the
others rest or feed. And the flocks are diminishing because
year after year hunters rather than wild predators kill the
margin that most species breed to offset predation.
Despite the habitat conservation programs of
Ducks Unlimited and similar groups, most of the political
pressure from the hunters’ side of the issue is toward open-
ing up seasons on alternate targets. Forced to cut migratory
waterfowl hunting quotas, the New York, New Jersey, and
Michigan state fish and game agencies experimented in
September with seasons on resident Canada geese,
descended from oversized birds who were raised as live
decoys until the practice was banned about 30 years ago.
New York now has about 30,000 resident geese,
while New Jersey has 50,000 and Michigan has 200,000.
Proliferating throughout the northeast, the geese are often
hated because they defecate heavily on clipped lawns and
beaches. The new hunting seasons often “kill two birds
with one stone” by coinciding with appeals for goose con-
trol. The only apparent organized opposition so far has
come from the Coalition to Prevent Destruction of Canada
Geese, based in Rockland County, New York, and headed
by Ann Muller, who also leads one of the factions con-
tending over the remnants of the Coalition to Abolish Sport
Hunting, after the death of founder Luke Dommer in
August 1992.
Hunters were expected to kill about 10% of the
resident geese in each state during the experimental sea-
sons. The toll in Connecticut’s eight-year-old resident
goose season is believed to be as high as 14% of a popula-
tion numbering 10,000 to 12,000. However, in New York
and New Jersey at least, the resident geese conspicuously
avoided the designated shooting areas.
Other approaches to resident goose control have
been equally unsuccessful, and rarely kinder. Volunteers
and game wardens in Strongville and Reminderville, Ohio,
annually round up and relocate truckloads of geese, over
protest from activists about alleged rough handling. Others
illegally kill geese. The Governor’s Land Management
Corporation, of Williamsburg, Virginia, was recently
charged with illegally poisoning 39 geese, while Jeffrey
Todd Monroe, 18, and Thomas Chester Johnson, 20, of
Purcellville, Virginia, drew 30 days in jail apiece for beat-
ing a goose to death with a baseball bat, smashing her eggs,
disembowling her, and hanging her remains from a tree.
The admitted thrill killing was applauded in open letters by
frustrated lawn owners.
Other alternatives offered to wingshooters include
a perennial attempt to open a mourning dove season in
Ohio, recently blocked––apparently––for the rest of this
legislative session; and in many states, expanding put-and-
take pheasant hunting, both on public lands and at private
preserves. State wildlife agencies have traditionally
stocked ringnecked and Sichuan pheasants, neither native
to North America, to give beginning hunters something
easy to find and kill. Like most activist groups,
Saratogians for Animal Rights of Saratoga, New York,
had never heard of put-and-take until after they picketed a
private captive pheasant shoot in nearby Greenwich during
September (whose patrons include the American Business
Women’s Association, 9100 Ward Parkway, Kansas City,
MO 64112-3389). Learning fast, they soon propelled New
York’s $500,000 put-and-take pheasant program into the
headlines across the state. Each year, New York buys
60,000 captive-reared pheasants for release in popular hunt-
ing areas the day before hunts are scheduled. Hunters actu-
ally bag only half the pheasants; predators eat the rest.
Less than a tenth of a percent of them survive the winter.
“The people who complain that the pheasants
aren’t wild enough are right,” said pheasant farmer Mike
Meagan. Bills to end the New York put-and-take program
have been introduced many times by fiscal watchdogs in
the state legislature, but have always died in committee.
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