By Chris Jennings
Dan Ashe was confirmed as the 16th director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in June 2011. His outstanding conservation science background and practical outdoor experience make him ideally suited for this important position. He's also an avid duck hunter, making him a natural advocate for wetlands and waterfowl. Ashe recently took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions from Ducks Unlimited.
How did you become a waterfowl hunter?
I shot my first duck when I was in high school and I have had a duck stamp and been hunting ever since. I went to school in Texas and Florida, and attended graduate school in Washington. I hunted ducks in all of those places. I've lived in Maryland for the past 30 years, and I hunt there.
What is your favorite type of waterfowl hunting?
In the early season, I prefer hunting wood ducks. It is early-morning pass-shooting, and they are plentiful in a couple of spots along the river where I hunt. It's public land, and I can be there in about 15 minutes from where I live. It's really ideal. Later in the season, I prefer hunting from a boat, along the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We get a good mix of puddle ducks. We hunt tidal water and probably shoot about 60 percent gadwall.
Do you have a favorite waterfowl species?
I enjoy gadwall and wigeon. They are relatively abundant. We don't get a lot of mallards where we hunt; it's mostly gadwall and wigeon.
The purchase of duck stamps is vital to wetlands and waterfowl conservation in the United States. What's the most important thing that hunters and other conservationists should know about the federal duck stamp program?
I want them to know it is appreciated, from the Fish and Wildlife Service. It is an act of selflessness. You are making a contribution to the future of waterfowl populations. I would also want them to understand that it is only a small part of what it costs to be a waterfowl hunter. Compared to our boats, dogs, decoys, and leases, a duck stamp is a small portion of the total cost. Whether it's $15, $25, or even $30 a year, it's a very small cost for the enjoyment of that resource.
With the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and other conservation programs facing budget cuts, what are the potential implications for wetlands and wildlife?
We are having to narrow our ambitions. The likelihood that land will come out of WRP or CRP due to rising commodity prices is increasing. Budget decisions, including those affecting refuges, can limit the suitable habitat we can provide for waterfowl. An example would be limited funding for pumping water on some refuges. This could potentially impact waterfowl populations in certain areas. We are now seeing a crisis unfolding in the Dakota grasslands and wetlands. Rising commodity prices and new drainage technology are driving wetland conversion at unprecedented rates. This could affect waterfowl populations continentally. We need well-funded conservation programs in order to respond.
What do you see as the biggest challenges, now and in the future, for the waterfowl conservation community?
I think the target continues to be habitat. You've got to provide habitat, and the science is continuing to tell us that the principal limiting factor is production habitat. That's why we are so excited about initiatives like the Dakota Grasslands projects, where we are working closely with DU.
DU and the USFWS have been partners for a long time. How would you describe the agency's relationship with DU today?
"Seamless" is a word that comes to mind. To me, that's the kind of relationship we have. The personnel work well together and it is a seamless partnership.
In your position, all the refuge managers in the country report to you. Does that mean you get special scouting reports about where the ducks are concentrated?
Yeah, I wish [laughs].
To learn more about U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe, visit the Director's Corner blog at www.fws.gov/director/dan-ashe. You can also follow the director on Twitter (@DirectorDanAshe).