|I received an interesting e-mail from Ducks Unlimited this week trumpeting the organization’s 70th anniversary. Even if you don’t know anything about ducks, you’ve certainly heard of DU and its many fund-raising operations. I’ve been a member of the club for about 30 years and have purchased federal and state duck stamps since the 1960s, so I was very interested in what the group had to say.
First thing they pointed out was that DU’s membership has grown from 6,720 members in 1937 to over 750,000 throughout North America. DU has more than 60,000 volunteers and 3,665 chapters in the U.S. and Canada. During the past year, more than 4,600 DU events have been held. “And, DU is continuing to grow and strengthen its volunteer ranks, recruiting 9,500 new volunteers and holding events associated with 355 new chapters during the past year,” this according to Laura Houseal, a DU public relations specialist. “In 70 years, we’ve conserved nearly 12 million acres across North America. That’s just under 470 acres per day. When you consider that DU started as just a small group of sportsmen with a good idea, 12 million acres is pretty astounding. And we know we can do more.”
That’s pretty peppy talk and dang near makes one want to run out and join the club, but then Houseal dropped the bomb that (for me) makes you wonder about all this: “The United States alone has lost more than half of its original wetlands, nature’s most productive ecosystem, and continues to lose more than 80,000 acres each year.”
Well, according to my calculator that means we’re losing 219 acres a day, or about half of what DU claims it’s gaining. And don’t forget, half of our wetlands are already gone! When I contacted Houseal about this, her response was not exactly what I expected.
“You are correct,” she said. “Wetland losses are continuing in the U.S., overwhelming the collective conservation accomplishments of DU and others. In the face of such daunting wetland losses, DU is focusing it’s time and efforts on conserving the wetlands that are most important to wildlife and people, lands that are at the greatest risk of being lost, and we’re conserving those first.”
Yikes! It sounds to me as if we’re down to the wire on wetland preservation in this country. It’s hard to imagine when any one of us in central Maine can look out the window and see water (lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and swamps) just about anywhere we go. You can’t walk 200 yards in the woods without getting your feet wet, especially in spring, and it’s the rare Maine basement that doesn’t have a sump pump in it to keep the water out.
In spite of all our water, Maine is considered to be on “the fringe” of the Atlantic Flyway, which means we have relatively few nesting ducks and a meager number of migratory waterfowl passing through during spring and fall migrations. Last winter, biologist Michael Schummer and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot/biologist John Bidwell (a resident of Hampden) surveyed coastal waters and estuaries from Kittery to Eastport during the month of January. Their total of 82,365 birds was a slight increase from last year’s count of 73,503. Most notable was a record count of mallards (4,025), up 1,827 from 2005 (2,198) and 801 greater than the last high count in 2002 (3,224). Black duck numbers were also greater during 2006 (16,631) than in 2005 (14,027), but still remain below the 10-year average of 18,419. Scaup continued their long-term decline with only 73 birds observed this year.
Surveys of duck broods on 39 wetlands across the state provide an index to production of Maine’s waterfowl populations. This long-term brood count survey has provided a means of following trends in waterfowl breeding populations since the mid-1950s. The number and proportion of broods, by species, has changed over time. The number of black duck and wood duck broods observed declined precipitously from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, but recovered somewhat during the 1980s and early 1990s. Since the mid-1980s, the numbers of broods observed of most species, except mallards, have declined.
Historically, hunters have tended to pursue inland ducks and the reported annual harvests of sea ducks were low. Major shifts in hunting effort occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s when populations of inland ducks (particularly black ducks) and Canada geese were low and hunting seasons and bag limits for these species were restricted. A short time later, concerns over the status of scoters (black, white-winged, and surf) in the Atlantic Flyway led to a reduction in the daily bag for the group from 7 to 4 a day, beginning in 1994.
Despite this change, hunting pressure on sea ducks, particularly on common eiders, continued to increase in eastern North America. In Maine, hunter interest in eiders continues to be strong. The percentage of eiders in Maine’s waterfowl harvest has increased from 4 percent in the mid-60s, to over 28 percent in recent years. There are indications that harvests of eiders in Nova Scotia and the New England states had doubled to levels that may no longer be sustainable.
“The scope of our wetlands conservation challenge is huge,” DU’s Houseal told me, “and we need all the support we can get to try to curb the tremendous loss of wetlands in the U.S. and across North America. Our 750,000 DU members are trying to curb that loss, but that’s only a fraction of the 300 million people who populate the U.S. We have a great group of volunteers and members who are doing everything they can but there’s clearly a lot of work yet to be done.”
If you’re interested in joining the fight to saved what’s left of our dwindling wetlands, consider joining a Maine chapter of Ducks Unlimited and see what can be done. From building duck nesting boxes to restoring wetlands, there’s a project waiting for you. For more about Maine’s Ducks Unlimited chapters, log onto www.ducks.org/Maine/MEContent/779/StateContactInformation.
This could be that “something new to do” project you were thinking about back at New Year’s resolution time!