New York State
Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State

ConservationPosted 4/8/17


Waterfowl — for Hunters Only?
Andy Mason, NYSOA Conservation Chair

American Black Ducks, photo by Joan Collins
              American Black Ducks, photo by Joan Collins
The juxtaposition of two recent events resulted in a click in my brain—bringing to the surface a thought that had evidently been there for a while, but never made it to consciousness. I had just completed totaling the results of my Audubon Chapter's section of the annual waterfowl count—organized and tallied by Bill Ostrander and committed regional compilers. This information is used by the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation in setting waterfowl hunting seasons.


Shortly afterwards, I received an email press release from DEC headed "DEC Asks for Hunter Input on Fall 2017 Waterfowl Seasons". The release goes on to describe regional task forces established to make recommendations on hunting season dates, bag limits, etc., stating, "Each task force includes representatives from the New York State Conservation Council, established waterfowl hunting organizations, and individual waterfowl hunters who provide input representing diverse points of view."


I couldn't help but be struck by the disconnect of birders - NYSOA specifically - carrying out the legwork of counting waterfowl on a cold winter weekend, but not being included in the process of determining hunting rules that will affect waterfowl numbers for the next year.


It's not as if waterfowl are not important to us. A perusal of listservs and other forums around the state at this time of year turns up numerous sighting reports of waterfowl, and many of the rarities reported and drawing birders' attention fall in this group.


New York State has a long-standing legal standard that wildlife belongs to all the people of the state. DEC seems to forget this principle in many of its determinations and actions. It has carried out large-scale lethal management of cormorants to benefit a small number of fishing charter owners, and is now engaged in major ecological manipulation of state lands to increase production of grouse and other game birds.


American Woodcock, photo by Joan Collins
              American Woodcock, photo by Joan Collins
The exclusion of birders and the general public in setting waterfowl hunting rules is another example of the tunnel vision of this agency. Among the species hunted in NY State are woodcock, snipe, rails, gallinules and other birds highly sought after by birders. Shouldn't we have a say in such things as bag limits on these birds—presently as high as 8 per day? Or if they even should be hunted at all?


Of course, a big reason for DEC's tilt towards hunters is the revenue they derive from license sales and fees. And the argument is made that hunting dollars have allowed purchase and protection of lands that benefit species other than game birds. But this should not give hunters carte blanche in management decisions by our public resource agency that affect publicly-owned wildlife.


Birding also has a significant economic role in the state, and birders play a big part in conservation and education. DEC needs to broaden its view and give more weight to differing perspectives in its actions affecting our wildlife.  

DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos can be reached at 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233.

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