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DNR Southern Region Outdoor Column: Paper ducks in the modern world (2005-08-24)
An Outdoor Column From: Tom Conroy DNR Information Officer 261 Highway 15 South New Ulm,MN 56073 507-359-6014 [email protected] August 22, 2005

Title: Paper ducks in the modern world

Geeks glued to computers, studying paper ducks or fish, talking to each other in a strange language only they understand. And so is the image that some have of professional fish and wildlife biologists.

You hear the criticism now and again. "Whadda they know, they never get out of their office!"

I've been rubbing shoulders with DNR fish and wildlife biologists for nearly two decades, now. And it's true: many of them do spend a lot of time in front of a computer; and sometimes the language includes phrases such as the hypothetico-deductive process and population viability analysis. It's also true, however, that time spent in the field continues to be a critical component of the modern day biologist's work day.

The big advantage, however, that today's biologists have is that computer technology has opened doors to information and knowledge that was unimaginable to their predecessors. Whereas in the old days a wildlife biologist's primary tools were waders and a decent set of binoculars, today's biologist has tools ranging from satellite imagery to years worth of data that can be instantly retrieved in the click of a button.

Nevertheless, despite the absolute wealth of shared information that the modern day biologist has at his or her fingertips, there are some who will never be convinced that these trained professionals know their business. When the state wildlife agency, for example, declares that the deer population in a certain area is excellent, the poor bloke who spends four days in a woods in that area without seeing a deer just ain't gonna believe it, regardless of the evidence.

For some, anecdotal observations will trump scientific data every time. A few days in the woods, fishing boat or duck blind provides all the evidence needed to draw global conclusions about the current state of hunting or fishing. It's always been thus and likely always will be. At the same time, admittedly, there will always be certain things about fish and wildlife that no one, not even the most brilliant biologist, will ever understand. At least not until the critters out there start talking to us.

From the first day I hunted ducks as a boy I've been fascinated by the mystery of the waterfowl migration. When a flock of ducks suddenly appears in the distance, I can't help but wonder where they've been, where they're going. When? Why? But if, as a wag once observed, not even the duck knows what it's going to do until it does it, how could humans ever possibly know?

While the magical mystery tour that is the waterfowl migration may never be completely understood, a study currently underway that is tracking the migration patterns of mallard ducks show promise for shedding more light on their movement behavior. Without computer technology, this study could not happen.

In spring, 2004, 28 mallards were outfitted with tiny transmitters in Arkansas. By using Global Positioning System satellites, the ducks can be tracked on a daily basis. This year, an additional 53 mallards were tagged to collect even more information. (Log on to to get the latest information on the ducks' current locations).

Andrew James, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission waterfowl program coordinator, explained that the new technology "will show us the exact areas in the breeding grounds and the migration corridors that deserve special attention and habitat work to improve the numbers of ducks wintering in Arkansas."

(As of August 1, 2005, about half the ducks were on the breeding grounds in Canada and the other half in the U.S.)

Technology in today's world is an unstoppable force that just keeps rolling along. And if you don't become part of the steamroller, you become part of the road. There's much to be learned from paper ducks.
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