Federal agency ducks answers for
failed waterfowl program
The Plain Dealer
I was splashing through the marsh when a pair of wary
mallards took wing from among the cattails a few dozen
They didn't have to worry. Ohio's duck hunting season
is still almost two weeks away.
Buckeye hunters have been handed 60 days of duck hunting
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You have to wonder
why the season is so short in a state where waterfowl
hunting depends on migrating birds making a short visit
to marshes that are but a shadow of what they were a century
Hunters in Louisiana, Mississippi or Arkansas, where
the same ducks will spend the winter feeding in sprawling
rice fields and marshes, have the same 60 days of hunting.
A major difference is the amazing opportunity for success
in those southern states. Louisiana waterfowl hunters
killed more than 2 million ducks last year, at least a
dozen times the annual Ohio duck harvest of about 150,000
The USFWS calls it waterfowl management and under federal
law makes all the rules. It is not fair, but the USFWS
seldom listens to state wildlife agencies or waterfowl
hunters. The USFWS is going to do what it thinks is best.
It doesn't matter to federal officials that Ohio sportsmen
will certainly lose many days of waterfowl hunting to
bad weather, a rare happening in the southern states.
Or that many species of ducks, including the glorious
canvasback, have yet to arrive before Ohio's seasons have
The USFWS demands Ohio hunters complete a Harvest Information
Program (HIP) survey when buying a hunting license to
give it the information needed to set seasons and bag
limits. It is a flawed program. Hurried hunters often
don't do it and clerks may not ask them if they want HIP
certification. The Ohio Division of Wildlife seldom makes
it an issue and rarely cites a waterfowl hunter for not
having the HIP certification on his license.
As a result, the USFWS numbers are hard to believe.
According to the USFWS, the small army of Ohio waterfowl
hunters jumped an amazing 29 percent last year, soaring
from 19,700 to 25,400 hunters. Oddly, at the same time
the sales of Ohio Wetland Habitat Stamps waterfowl hunters
must purchase dropped by more than 300.
The hunting weather wasn't at its best in 2002, especially
during the latter part of the northern Ohio waterfowl
season. The USFWS reports that Buckeye hunters killed
193,300 ducks last year, a whopping 33 percent increase.
The figures just don't add up.
The USFWS slashed the bluebill limit from six to three
for Ohio, the most important duck for Lake Erie layout
hunters. Only 3,622 bluebill, or scaup, were killed by
hunters last year according to the inflated figures of
the USFWS, a negligible amount.
The USFWS demands a special zone for Lake Erie goose
hunters and a shortened season to protect beleaguered
geese from Southern James Bay in Canada, a population
in peril in part because native hunters take geese and
their eggs in spring. Many state experts believe the restricted
Lake Erie Zone isn't necessary, that the vast majority
of geese killed by Ohio hunters are the homegrown variety.
The USFWS has dawdled as the Great Lakes cormorant population
has exploded. The birds have wreaked havoc in Ohio since
nests reappeared in 1990. The homely black ducks are devastating
the Lake Erie islands, killing trees and vegetation with
their plentiful waste after devouring massive amounts
of Lake Erie game fish. Now, the birds are moving to the
Ohio shoreline, nesting from East Harbor to LaDue Reservoir.
The USFWS finally developed a management plan this year.
It turned the cormorant problem over to state wildlife
agencies and mandated that they must use USFWS guidelines.
Hunters who kill a cormorant will still face hefty fines.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife is now trying to decide
how it can stop the cormorant explosion. No management
plan will be available for at least a year. But under
federal guidelines, easy answers will be hard to find.