Papers in the Biological Sciences


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From Waterfowl of North America, Revised Edition (2010). Copyright © 2010 Paul A. Johnsgard.


It is almost as difficult to find individuals opposed to waterfowl conservation as it is to hear Americans speaking out against motherhood or corn on the cob. Yet, in a real sense, it has been the American tradition of unchecked population expansion, taming the wilderness, and converting prairies and marshes into cornfields that has nearly spelled disaster for some of our native waterfowl. Of a wetland area in the United States that originally covered some 127 million acres, nearly 50 million acres have already been drained and lost as waterfowl habitat. Marshes have not only been converted to farmland but also have provided land for expanding suburbs and have been covered with cement or asphalt for roads, airports, and the other hallmarks of modern civilization. All of this has been done in the hallowed name of progress, for the benefits of a greater gross national product, and in hopes of a higher collective standard of living. Unfortunately, waterfowl have had few spokesmen to decry their changing standards of living, and their gross national product can only be measured in terms of the numbers of birds that annually fly southward toward their wintering areas. These numbers, as reflected in annual harvests and changes in season lengths and bag limits, provide a measure of the health of our waterfowl resource. In recent decades that health index has often sagged alarmingly, and a few species have scarcely been able to recover from these setbacks.

Some persons might well pose the questions: "Just how important to our economy is a healthy waterfowl population? So what if one or two species might become extinct, aren't there plenty more to take their places?" It is nothing if not traditional to measure the value of things in terms of dollars, the very lodestone of American values. Thus, there are the annual license fees and "duck stamp" costs paid by some two million hunters-and the costs of ammunition, gas, lodging, and expendable supplies that are used on every hunt. Then there are the depreciation costs on guns, clothes, vehicles, boats, decoys, and all the other special equipment on which the waterfowl hunter lavishes his care and dollars. Costs of raising and training hunting dogs, rental or lease costs for hunting areas, hunting club costs, and similar ancillary expenses all contribute to the overall economic impact of waterfowl hunting. The 1965 National Survey of Hunting and Fishing reported that the average American waterfowl hunter spends over fifty dollars per year on his sport. With more than two million waterfowl hunters in the United States and Canada, at least a hundred million dollars per year would be a minimum economic value of waterfowl hunting.

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