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Bird Flu Basics for Duck Hunters

Avian influenza, bird flu, pandemic, highly pathogenic, H5N1 virus—what does all this mean to duck hunters and waterfowl conservation?
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LOOKING AHEAD

Nobody knows how the bird flu threat will play out in the next few months and years in domestic birds, wild birds, or humans. The greatest of all threats would be for the disease to evolve into a lethal form that is easily transmittable from human to human. Such a mutation has not occurred, and even the world’s experts in human health don’t agree on how likely that possibility is.

Nevertheless, it could happen, so authorities have no choice but to prepare for the worst. These efforts have sparked an explosion of media coverage this year.

Whatever happens, the ducks will endure, responding to the seasons, the weather, and their habitats as always. Whether this threat turns out to be no more than a scare with the disease showing up in a few wild birds or something as extreme as a human pandemic, it will pass. For the ducks, life would return to normal fairly quickly. In the unlikely event that waterfowl hunting were to be disrupted in some way by avian flu, it would be vitally important not to allow the tremendous progress being made in waterfowl habitat conservation to be severely interrupted. We must sustain our commitment to the long-term conservation of waterfowl habitats by supporting organizations like Ducks Unlimited, buying duck stamps, and pushing for favorable policies in the Farm Bill and funding for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, while also supporting state and provincial programs that help assure the future of waterfowl. Under such a scenario, Ducks Unlimited would do everything possible to sustain our most important work and is preparing contingency plans to guide the organization through several different levels of impact.

For duck hunters and managers, the most important things to do will be to watch the progress of bird flu surveillance programs and keep up with other developments as they occur. Ducks Unlimited will help you follow this issue by diligently reporting significant news on www.ducks.org/birdflu. DU’s website also provides helpful links to other sources of information from across North America and the world.

In the end, each of us will make our own decisions about how we will react to future developments. With what I know now, I intend to handle the birds I harvest a little more carefully than I used to—as I actually  should have been doing all along. Otherwise, I plan to carry on enjoying this spectacular resource as much as I possibly can, restrained only by the normal things—my budget and available spare time.

Dr. Bruce Batt is chief biologist at DU’s national headquarters in Memphis.

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