by Dale Humburg
Waterfowling traditions, although sometimes difficult to define, are driven by a passion for wetlands and waterfowl. How else can you explain our willingness to strike out in the middle of the night in freezing temperatures and high winds with the hope—often not realized—of ducks in the decoys? And no sooner has one waterfowl season ended than we begin thinking about the next. By midsummer (or earlier for those especially stricken with duck fever), we are actively preparing for opening day. Simply enjoying the sights and sounds of the marsh and relating these experiences to others who share the same passion are also part of the waterfowling tradition. In many respects, it's this undefined and innate appeal of waterfowl and wetlands that drives the traditions that support their conservation.
In 1937, Frederick Lincoln, the father of the flyway system, offered the following testimony to Congress on the plight of ducks during the Dust Bowl era: "It is my opinion at the present time that we have about a third of the number of ducks and geese that we had 10 or 15 years ago...Furthermore, I am not satisfied that we can have the population we had 10 or 15 years ago, as I am not sure we could accommodate them all. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that we are steadily progressing toward the time when we can enjoy reasonable sport."
Clearly, Lincoln understood that ducks, habitat, and hunters are all linked. And waterfowl managers have spent the better part of the last century working to balance these elements of the management equation. For much of this time, managers were largely concerned with the impact hunters had on waterfowl populations through harvest. And for the most part, the primary decisions made by managers have involved adjusting bag limits and hunting season timing and length. Until recently, little explicit consideration was given to waterfowl hunting participation in these decisions. But that's all starting to change.