Mid-South waterfowling has been poor the past four years. In this column and the next two, I'll discuss some of the causes.
In the last 100 years, global temperatures rose by an average of 1 degree Fahrenheit, faster than at any time in recorded history, and that rise is expected to quicken. Therefore, waterfowl face substantial population declines during this century in North America from a warmer climate and shrinking wetlands caused by global warming, including major loss of prime breeding grounds, a reduction of coastal winter habitat, and disruptions in migration.
The question then is not whether it's going to get warmer or not, but how much and where.
If you're a duck hunter or make income from duck hunting, then you need to read “The Waterfowler's Guide to Global Warming,” published by the National Wildlife Federation (www.nwf.org/globalwarming).
Global warming is a force that waterfowlers will have to contend with in the future. It'll make duck habitat literally evaporate. Research has shown that warming could shrink crucial prairie pothole wetlands by 90 percent and duck populations by 70 percent. That's sobering, especially when 95 percent of the duck population is produced there. Whatever happens there has a major impact on our duck hunting here in the Delta.
Global warming is already having an impact. In northern breeding habitats, where average temperatures have already risen significantly, ducks and geese are responding by breeding earlier and expanding their ranges farther north, the report states. “We are looking at a potent combination of forces all coming together over the next decades. The effect on ducks and geese could be dramatic,” says Patty Glick, the report's author.
Arkansas duck hunters have already noticed a change. The state has had a census count of 1 million ducks in only eight of the past 24 years, after having a million ducks or more in 18 of the previous 24 years. In addition, the shallow wetlands of the Gulf Coast states are especially vulnerable because of the expected rise in average sea levels.
As everyone knows by now, the USFW has given us a 60-day season with a six-duck limit. Relish it while you can, for I suspect it'll be the last 60-day season we'll see in a long time, if ever. I also suspect that we in the Delta will have a pretty good season this year, and the chances are good that we'll have an above average season.
Why? Because from Texas all the way to the Canadian border a drought has taken hold and shows no signs of relenting. Even if it did, it's probably too late for the corn crop in Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere. The soybean crop is marginal in those areas but could be salvaged with some rains. Nevertheless, corn (not soybeans) and warm weather are what keep the ducks from coming south. With the corn crop withering in the northern states, ducks will not be short-stopped. Even with warm weather, I suspect they'll migrate south looking for food, and the Delta may be able to provide it as the Southland, although suffering from the drought, is not suffering as much as the northern states.
For future seasons, once the drought ends, then we'll not see many ducks because warmer temperatures in northern regions will reduce seasonal ice cover, making it unnecessary for ducks to fly south to find ice-free water and snow-free food.
The report has many recommendations on how to reverse global warming. I would only add that now is not the time to drop your membership in DU or Delta Waterfowl. If you're not a member, now would be a good time to join.
Many have asked where has all the money gone that has been contributed to these organizations. In their defense, if not for them, we would be farther down the path of no return than we already are.
Wayne Capooth — outdoorsman, writer, and physician — has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org.