By Scott Yaich, Ph.D.
The prospects are sobering, but if we act now, we can change the future.
The average age of a Ducks Unlimited member is about 50, so not too many of our “average” readers will be around in the year 2050. And while those of us lucky enough to be on the “right side of the grass” 43 years from now may not be hunting as often, we will undoubtedly enjoy hearing about the many hunting adventures of our children and grandchildren.
But many of us can easily remember back 43 years to 1964 and realize that a lot has changed since then. Most notably for waterfowl hunters, there were about 12 million more acres of wetlands in the United States than there are now. Now, think about your duck-hunting family and friends for a second, and I’ll bet you can quickly think of a few youngsters who are about seven years old. They could be “average” DU members when 2050 arrives. What changes might take place in the next 43 years to affect their future duck hunting? Will there still be enough habitat to fill the skies with ducks and provide places to hunt?
We are the custodians of our youth’s future. Futurist Joel Barker said, “No one will thank you for taking care of the present if you neglected the future.” What can we do to help future generations have the waterfowling experiences that we’ve enjoyed? While we can’t predict what 2050 will hold with any certainty, and projections vary, one thing is certain: There will be significant change. There are some clear trends. Many of these are undeniable and unavoidable, but waterfowl conservationists and hunters can adapt to other trends if we thoughtfully manage them. So, let’s think about what the future could look like in light of these trends, and seek insights into actions we can take now to help shape the future we want for coming generations of waterfowlers.
Drivers of Environmental Change
The fundamental driver of the changes to come is human population growth. The world’s population was 3.3 billion in 1964, is 6.5 billion now, and will likely be more than 9 billion by 2050. Closer to home, the U.S. population increased from 192 million to 300 million between 1964 and 2007, and projections indicate it will increase another 33 percent to about 400 million by 2050. More people will require more food, water, energy, and living space. Today, every person in the United States requires about 1.8 acres of farmland for his or her food. But even as we put more land into agriculture, there are limits to what is farmable, and we are already squeezing more productivity out of our prime farmland.