Eulogy for a Duck Dynasty

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<em>"The old duck men are fading into the sunset."</em>

&ltem&gt”The old duck males are fading into the sunset.”&lt/em&gt (Minnesota Waterfowl Association/)

The Minnesota Waterfowl Association, 1 of the oldest, biggest, and most powerful state-primarily based conservation groups in the nation, has ended its 52-year run.

The MWA announced its dissolution in a message posted on its web-site final month the doors closed Sept. 30.

“Times have changed in the waterfowl and conservation globe, and the old duck males are fading into the sunset,” the group announced in the statement. “Due to an aging and declining use base in waterfowl hunting and conservation a trend has created more than the final decade or so which points to the reality of the time. Declining duck populations, Duck Stamp sales, access, and declining membership are all indicators which contributed to this choice.”

The choice to fold was reached just after months of angst, says John Schroers, chairman of the board of directors, who says he’s nonetheless experiencing the variety of feelings related with loss and death.

“I have sadness, anger, grief, bewilderment, disbelief. And resentment. Do not overlook resentment,” he says. “You could say that we’ve been declining for 20 years, but it became increasingly apparent that we’d be unable to meet our mission targets. 1 of the hardest points I’ve had to do was to inform the founders that their dream was going away.”

These founders had been accountable for a couple generations of crucial wetlands perform in the state of 10,000 lakes. Founded by a group of waterfowl hunters from the southern Minnesota town of Albert Lea back in 1967, the initial mission of the MWA was to restore the vitality of the region’s shallow lakes, which had been drained by a decade of production agriculture. Founders celebrated the waterfowl-production capability of Minnesota’s prairie habitat, and represented a particular kind of hunting.

“Those guys had been members of the Greatest Generation, guys like my father and his buddies coming out of Globe War II,” says Schroers. “They grew up as river-bottom puddle-jumpers, but just after the war, they became gentlemen—over-the-decoys duck hunters, guys who would smoke a huge cigar in the blind and share nation-club liquor just after a hunt, in the truest Nash Buckingham style.”

They also became joiners. They hunted with each other, planned trips with each other, and combined their sources to conserve wetlands with each other. They constructed the Minnesota Waterfowl Association with each other, expanding from a handful of chapters in the southern element of the state to almost 50 chapters in nearly every single Minnesota town huge sufficient to have a site visitors light. The group not only raised revenue for habitat perform, but they became powerful lobbyists in the legislative arena.

1 of the founders, Ray Hangge, reckoned that the group’s lake-restoration campaign required a mechanism to achieve the habitat perform but also designated funding to fuel it. Hangge and other individuals helped pass the state’s Lake Designation Law that gave the authority to handle shallow lakes to Minnesota’s Division of Organic Sources. They then lobbied the legislature in 1977 to pass into law the requirement that every single waterfowl hunter in the state had to obtain a state duck stamp. Monies raised helped fund the management of Minnesota’s “Game Lakes Plan.”

Later, the MWA was instrumental in passing each the state’s Clean Water Act and the Minnesota Outside Heritage Fund, which designates a portion of sales-tax income to modest grants devoted to wildlife habitat and recreational access.

But the Minnesota Duck Stamp is the MWA’s enduring legacy. At the height of waterfowling recognition, the DNR sold some 140,000 state duck stamps annually, says Steve Cordts, Minnesota’s waterfowl plan manager.

“There may well have been some structural troubles with the MWA, but I believe the greatest concern is participation,” says Cordts. “We have as couple of waterfowlers in Minnesota as we’ve ever had. We nonetheless sell amongst 70,000 and 80,000 state duck stamps a year, but that is much more or significantly less half what we sold back in the 1970s.”

Why the decline in duck hunting? It is element of a national trend. Hunting participation in the United States peaked in 1982, when almost 17 million hunters bought 28.three million licenses. Hunter numbers have declined considering that, dropping by two.two million amongst 2011 and 2016 alone. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife-Linked Recreation, in 2016, the national census of hunters tallied 11.five million.

Minnesota's 2019 state waterfowl stamp.

Minnesota’s 2019 state waterfowl stamp. (MN DNR/)

Waterfowl hunting has taken a disproportionately heavy hit. In 1991, three million hunters purchased waterfowl licenses and identified themselves as migratory-bird hunters. By 2016, only two.four million hunters purchased waterfowl licenses, a 20 % decline.

“When I joined the MWA in the mid 1990s, Minnesota was the biggest waterfowling state in the nation,” says Schroers. “We place one thing like 140,000 to 150,000 duck hunters in the marsh every single season. Now, we’re half that. You could point to age. Duck hunters have a tendency to be older. You could point to revenue. Waterfowling is amongst the most high priced of the outside pursuits, with a lot of gear to get into the game. You could point to access. And you could point to declining numbers of resident birds as we’ve relied much more on migratory birds in the flyways.”

But Schroers thinks that generational alterations get some of the blame for the decline in organized conservation.

“We have fewer men and women who want to join groups, who want to come to a fundraising banquet, and who want to join their buddies in the marsh,” says Schroers. “Waterfowling is at its very best when it is social, when you have buddies joining you. It appears like the new generation is much more interested in maintaining score, maintaining count of what they shoot, rather than the social aspect of hunting and the deeper knowledge of waterfowling.”

Schroers notes that not all the MWA’s issues are demographic.

“In some methods, you could trace the decline of the MWA as far back as 2002 and 2003,” says Schroers. “We had a conservation plan that our organization administered with state revenue, and although there was no malfeasance, there had been some queries raised by state auditors about our fiscal management. That trouble stopped our development, and there was so substantially mistrust that about half our chapters closed and half our membership left. There had been no repercussions legally, but we had been suspended as partners from the DNR. Old-timers would say that is what killed us it just took 20 years for it to occur.”

Other dynamics either slowed development or accelerated the atrophy, which includes the emergence of national waterfowl conservation groups such as Ducks Limitless and Delta Waterfowl. You could also blame the return of moisture to the “duck factory” of the prairies that place much more waterfowl in the sky and in hunters’ bags.

“Most conservation groups are born out of crisis,” says Schroers. “They exist to bring back a species or to restore habitat. When that is carried out, there’s not as substantially of a sense of urgency to belong to a group or to support give back to the resource. Young hunters could believe, ‘why need to I join a duck organization? There will usually be hunting and there will usually be ducks,’ simply because they’ve under no circumstances knowledgeable a season with lowered bag limits or restricted hunting days. They may well even celebrate the decline in waterfowl participation, pondering that fewer hunters signifies much more ducks for them. That is a shame, simply because there’s usually going to be yet another crisis, and when it takes place, there’s no group prepared to respond.”

Certainly, some waterfowlers would claim there’s a brewing crisis suitable now in the Mississippi Flyway, exactly where farming and water-management patterns have kept ducks and geese farther north than usual. For the final couple years, waterfowlers in Louisiana, Arkansas, and eastern Texas haven’t enjoyed their ordinarily productive late season.

As a outcome, a new waterfowl group, the Flyway Federation has emerged to address what they look at a crisis.

For himself, Schroers says he’ll channel his passion for waterfowling into a much more individual mission.

“I’m 65 years old, but you will have to dig me out of a swamp prior to I’m carried out hunting. I haven’t missed a waterfowl opener in 56 years, and now my grandson is element of that string. He’s only four and has been a element of two duck openers, and hopefully a complete lot much more.”

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