Someone once said hunting regulations aren’t a democracy.
Hunters don’t get to vote on them.
However, in an odd turn of events, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is open to suggestions.
The FWS is about to begin surveying dove hunters in the 40 states with a season.
Although the Service is keeping the complete survey under lock and key until it starts mailing it out, it sounds as if it will mostly be the standard questions like how much do you hunt, how old are you and how much do you make.
There is one known loaded question in the survey. The Service wants hunters’ opinions of spent lead shot and what effect it has on mourning doves and other wildlife.
For several years there has been a push to bring nontoxic shot from waterfowl hunting to other forms of migratory bird hunting, including doves. It has come from within the Service as well as environmental groups claiming lead is foul.
Waterfowl hunters are familiar with nontoxic shot, even though some still have an issue with it. Because of concerns of birds dying after ingesting spent shot as grit, the FWS began to phase it in for duck and goose hunters in 1987-88 following a court order. It became mandatory nationwide in 1991.
There are an estimated million dove hunters across the country. About a third of them are in Texas, where in a good year hunters will take between 4 and 5 million birds. That is about a quarter of the overall U.S. harvest of 20 million birds.
It is the side effects that are of concern.
Hunters do put a lot of lead on the ground in pursuit of a limit. There are no firm numbers, but a best-guess estimate is an average of five shots per bird. That comes to a staggering 1.25 to 1.56 million pounds of shot a year falls on the ground in Texas alone.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department attempted to become proactive on the issue with a nontoxic shot study that started in 2008. There was one problem with the $2.2 million study. Instead of digging in the ground to see if lead shot was a potential problem they shot lead and steel into the air to see if it would kill doves.
However, a study in Southeastern New Mexico in the 1980s did show alarming results. Soil samples were collected before and after dove season around a stock tank. Before the season lead shot was found in 54 percent of the 120 half-inch test holes. After the season it was discovered in 68 percent.
A number of groups recently petitioned the EPA to expand nontoxic shot’s use for hunting other birds and game animals, but they were blocked by a court ruling saying the EPA did not have that authority.
So what is next?
However, he did note that in 2008 one of the states in the Central Flyway proposed a ban on lead shot for most migratory birds with the exception of dove.
“So, there has been movement on this issue, but it has not been from the USFWS,” Mason said.
And in announcing the survey Dr. Ken Richkus, the Service’s Population and Habitat Assessment Branch, said, “The Service and the states want to make sure we use the best science-based information for the management and conservation of our migratory bird resources.”
It is just a sound bite, but reading between the lines it makes the survey look like the beginning of a public relations campaign that leads up to changes.
Unlike in the 1980s when steel shot was mandated for ducks, hunters now have 12 options when it comes to nontoxic shot ranging from steel to a variety of tungsten and other metal options. At some point down the road, hunters better get ready to pick one of them if they are going to be hunting on Sept. 1.
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