Birdshot and backlashes - The need for wetlands
It was the first grouse season opener in recent years with silence. Saturday, the bird season got underway with nary a sound of gunshots. Surely, some grouse must have been taken some place, but not in our neck of the woods, unless somebody shot them with an arrow.Everyone knows that hunting is difficult with thick, early fall foliage. But silence? There didn’t even seem to be very many hunters out. Pre-season scouting indicated very few birds. Grouse appear at or near the bottom of their cycle. A very low bird population.There were some cries for a shorter season and a cut in the limit, like back to three birds instead of five. That would probably make no difference. If a hunter cannot get one grouse, whether the limit is three or five has little bearing. Even if the season was terminated, it would probably make no difference. When the grouse are at the low end of their cycle, very few are harvested. Hunting pressure drops abruptly and the surviving grouse go about their business with little fear of harm.As has always occurred since before white men showed up in these parts, the grouse will recover in succeeding seasons. The population will build up and perhaps five years down the line there will be good grouse hunting again. It is simply the way it goes and people with guns trudging over the aspen ridges and through the balsam thickets have little bearing on the overall grouse population.Ducks are in similar short supply but for different reasons. There are lots of theories but no hard facts. Over a number of years, Minnesota has lost more marshland to drainage than the size of the entire one-million-acre Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It is easy to get people all excited over “saving” the BWCAW for whatever reason, but very difficult to get the populace interested in saving wetlands. Ducks Unlimited and other conservation groups have been on the wetlands issue for decades but losses continue, none-the-less. There is only one way to have more wildlife and that is to make it worthwhile to the landowner. It has been held forever that game birds belong to the state, not the farmer. There is certainly no incentive for the farmer to create conditions for increasing wildlife unless the farmer happens to be a hunter.In Europe, wild game is considered a crop, just like wheat or oats. It is produced on the farmland, in its fields, hedgerows and marshes. In Europe, wild game can be harvested and sold in the market just like chickens or pigs. Hunters pursue their sport on farms, but all the game they shoot belongs to the landowner. A hunter may keep some game, but he usually pays for it. As a result, European farmers “farm” for game. Grasslands, cropland, hedgerows and woodlands are managed to produce wildlife which has monetary value to the farm and the farmer. European farms produce huge crops of wildlife, not just game for the market, but also other birds and animals which thrive in the habitat created by the landowner. It is doubtful that any move will be made in the near future to change how wildlife is viewed on American farms, but if citizens want to see a significant increase in wildlife, they could consider making it worthwhile for the farmer to create wildlife habitat.There have been myriad programs initiated by the government to pay farmers to create more wildlife-friendly environments. These cost money and are temporary. If wild game is ever considered a crop of the land which can be of value to the farmer, there will be a sharp change in land use. Farmers would “farm” for wildlife just like they farm for every other crop on the land. It is that simple. The trouble is, it goes counter to what people have thought about wild game for generations, regardless of how habitat and game populations decline.