Last update: December 12, 2004 at 6:29 AM
Dennis Anderson: Empty skies
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
December 12, 2004 ANDY1212
Now, in the twilight of 2004, Minnesota has accomplished what only a few decades ago would have been considered impossible: It has run out of ducks.
For a long while, the state got by, losing numbers of birds -- but only some -- as it lost habitat. As this occurred, sore feelings among waterfowlers were soothed by reassurances of biologists, state and federal, who insisted any drop-off in duck numbers was temporary -- "And besides," the biologists would say, "though hunting generally was spotty, some hunters had some good shooting somewhere."
All of which was bogus then and remains bogus now.
In Minnesota, there are no ducks.
Worse, there is no realistic plan to regain the lost birds and the habitat they require, or even stem the state's continuing losses of wetlands and associated uplands.
As previously noted in this space, duck management in Minnesota is the province of a handful of Department of Natural Resources employees who collectively call themselves the "Waterfowl Committee."
Given the state's decline in duck numbers, one would think membership on this panel would signal the end of a professional's career. Not so: At last check, these folks are prepared to meet again -- and again and again -- apparently unaware that the birds they are managing are gone.
"But some hunters had some good shooting somewhere."
The question now is what to do. It's a given that many people are apathetic and, even in the face of catastrophe, will do nothing. Or little. Duck hunters are no different.
Yet it is also true that duck hunters -- most of them -- are passionate about their sport and about the opportunities in autumn it affords them to pass a good time at sunrise, in marshes, among friends.
These people, I believe, will go a long way -- perhaps much farther than anyone in the DNR or the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty imagines -- to save ducks and duck hunting.
Options for initiating positive change are few. What is known is that with each passing duck season the chance that state and federal wildlife agencies will undertake the kind of work necessary to save ducks is slim, if not nonexistent.
Also known is that any good will those agencies and their biologists once had with duck hunters is gone.
Minnesota duck hunters, therefore, must initiate the changes necessary to save ducks and duck hunting, or risk losing both.
How serious is the problem?
Last week, in an e-mail message to Minnesota waterfowl activist Lance Ness, DNR wetland wildlife habitat program leader Ray Norrgard said:
"Moderate success [in restoring mallard numbers] will require an additional 1.5 million acres of prairie wetlands and at least that much grassland in long-term protection. At our current rate of wetland restoration, that will take about 150 years, assuming we stem the loss of existing wetlands. The long and short of it is that we are in trouble and have been for a long time."
What's remarkable is not so much Norrgard's proclamation that a century and a half will pass before a few more greenheads fly over Minnesota, but that someone in the DNR actually acknowledges the gravity of the situation -- until recently a novelty among that agency's employees.
What to do? We begin by gathering in numbers large enough to impress upon Pawlenty, DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam and the Legislature that action is demanded -- and expected.
Call it a march if you will. Or a rally. At the Capitol. Perhaps in January. Perhaps February.
Though Minnesota has 120,000 duck hunters, nearly all of whom are angry, it's unknown whether they will show up in numbers large enough to impress upon public officials the seriousness of their concerns.
I do know this: In 1988, Minnesota duck hunters raised $650,000 to purchase a helicopter to curb poaching on the Gulf Coast. Therefore it would seem reasonable that in 2005 many of the same waterfowlers would join to demand changes on Minnesota's landscape. Changes that not only benefit waterfowl, but people.
In the U.K., more than 1 million people marched in London to support hunting when it was threatened.
In St. Paul, we should be able to put together a few thousand -- and perhaps a few thousand more -- supporters of wetlands and wetland wildlife to demand action in a state where both have played important roles in the state's history.
To succeed, supporters will have to come to St. Paul from the north, the south and the west, joining at the Capitol with Twin Cities residents who rally when rallying isn't really what they do.
Someone must organize the gathering. Someone must pick a date. Everyone -- or as many as possible -- must come. Write me at the e-mail address below with ideas.
Dennis Anderson is at email@example.com