Ducks take a dive

01B credit dave and rose1Ducks in the USA may be under threat from the falling interest in wildfowling, and the UK’s population is likely to follow suit.

As research has repeatedly shown, land managed for shooting often supports greater biodiversity than unmanaged land.

Reduced shooting is, therefore, likely to have a noticeable and potentially disastrous effect on duck populations, which has been demonstrated in the USA by Dr Mark Vrtiska and colleagues at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The team’s research, which was published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, showed that funds from organised and licensed hunting directly contributed to conservation efforts.

In the 1970s, more than two million hunters in the USA paid for the federal ‘duck stamp’ licence. Research showed that 98 per cent of the money raised from duck shooting licences was spent on buying or leasing habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Dr Vrtiska believes this has greatly helped the ducks and benefited the whole ecosystem: “The waterfowl population has passed 40 million six times since 1995. These should be glory days for duck hunting.”

Despite this confidence in the advantages of duck shooting licences, the number of duck stamps being bought is falling. The decline reached 1.3 million in 2008 and this has continued to drop by around 30 per cent annually.

The number of ducks and shooters used to be a mutually dependent relationship, but Mr Vrtiska worries that this is no longer the case: “Because the relationship appears to be broken, we’ve lost a lot of funding and in turn lost a lot of habitat conservation on the ground. The carrying capacity of the lands to produce ducks is going to be significantly reduced without that conservation funding being there.”

Duck stamp money is required to establish and protect good breeding ground for ducks. A lack of suitable breeding areas and droughts across the USA have seriously affected overall breeding patterns.

Dr Vrtiska explained: “You can’t buy rain, but the money allows you to set the table. It’s about preserving ducks, habitats and the tradition of hunting. They are interdependent, I don’t see how to get around one without the other two.”

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