A new study from the Wildlife Society Bulletin is showing that as duck hunters fall, the conservation budget for the birds falls right with it.
The study shows that the number of duck stamps, which are licenses a hunter has to purchase in order to hunt, has declined drastically over the last few decades. According to the Wildlife Society Bulletin, in the 1970s there were more than 2.1 million stamps sold each year but between 2004 and 2008 the number of stamps fell to 1.3 million.
Mark Vrtiska of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said that the waterfowl population has reached 40 million six times since 1995. He added that prior to that those high numbers were only seen nine times since the records began. While this technically should be the glory days for hunting ducks, the number of hunters has still dropped. While one would assume that this is good news for the ducks, it's actually hurting their conservation efforts.
"You may think the fall in hunters would be good news for ducks, but ironically it is leading to less money for the conservation of their habitat," Vrtiska said. "Federal funding for conservation is dependent on the revenue raised by selling the duck stamps, a unique dynamic for wildlife managers in the United States. Up to 98% of money raised by the duck stamps is used to purchase or lease habitat within the National Wildlife Refuge system."
Vrtiska said that if the number of hunters kept consistent with the number of ducks, then 600,000 more duck stamps should have been purchased between 1995 and 2008 compared to the numbers that were actually sold. He said that would account for a loss of $126 million in conservation efforts and maintaining the wetlands.
"Duck hunting has been a tradition for rural America for centuries, yet a cultural shift and changing attitudes has seen a slow decline in hunter numbers," Vrtiska said. "The resulting fall in funding is impacting all those involved in habitat conservation which is only made more important by the dramatic rise in duck numbers."
One area in the United States is bucking the overall trend in duck numbers. According to the Times-Picayune, the estimated number of ducks in Southeast Louisiana in January was 718,000, down from 1.5 million on a year-over-year comparison.