By Land Tawney
Opening day of waterfowl season makes me dream of whistling wings and early morning quacks descending into decoy spreads. It makes me salivate like no other opener. For the first time in over a decade, I did not join my friends afield. Why? I have the fortune of my three year old daughter and six month old son at home. I also had the misfortune of traveling for work for the majority of the past month. I spent the opener with my family for some much needed re-connection. It was still one of the best openers I've had. This year’s waterfowl season is setting up to be a banner year. Because of above average rain fall this spring, duck numbers have jumped through the roof.
Truth be told, I still have over 90 days left in the season to hunt my favorite quarry and I'm fortunate enough t0 have already broken the ice in Louisiana with green wing teal in the bag, and a native sharp tail grouse last week at the Charles M Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
Touring the Charles M.Russell National Wildlife Refuge last week, there was water everywhere. On each little wetland ducks and geese could be found. My friends tell me the same is happening in North Dakota. The additional rain this year helped tremendously but there is a broader history on why waterfowl populations are in such good shape and we can kill seven ducks and four dark geese a day in Montana.
It started over a hundred years ago when sportsmen stepped up and put an end to market killing. That meant no more punt guns that killed hundreds of ducks with one shot and no more nurse ducks (pet ducks tethered to boats that quacked and swam amongst decoys). Hunters and anglers led the charge in these fights. But, it wasn’t just ending blatant over harvest that gave us our good fortune today. It was sound, scientific management. This started in earnest in 1935 with the penning of the first Duck Stamp by Ding Darling.
Required for purchase by all who hunt waterfowl, the funds generated by the duck stamp go back into purchasing habitat for ducks and geese (which also benefits a host of other species). I’m proud to purchase my federal and state stamp every year, knowing my money is hitting the ground. In fact Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Refuge System.
Ducks Unlimited has asked die-hards to purchase two this year, essentially "Doubling Up." If you want to know why, simply look to Congress for the answer. Our country is in financial turmoil this year and all must tighten our belts, unfortunately conservation funding always seems to take the biggest cuts. But why cut funding that provides over $2billion in revenue to the state of Montana and supports tens of thousands of jobs. Why cut funding that is the lifeblood for small communities where the hunting season is like a four month Christmas spending spree? Why cut funding that is sustainable? This spring Congressmen Rehberg voted to zero out the North American Wetlands Conservation Act fund, drastically reduce the and Land and Water Conservation Fund, and zero out the "Open Fields” program which provides funding to farmers and ranchers who voluntarily open up their lands to hunting.
Hunters and anglers have spoken up for years on the benefits of conservation funding and continue to make our case to the “Gang of Twelve”, who are looking at funding cuts to help right our economy. Sen. Baucus will play a major role is this move forward and we look forward to his continued support for our sustainable Montana outdoor economy. I think everyone knows we need to tighten our belts but we don’t need to sell the farm. The seeds we sow today will determine the benefits we reap later.
This is simple, I just want my children to have the same opportunity to salivate over the duck opener as me.