The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued a press release outlining its plan to help waterfowl survive the Gulf oil spill. There are several key points, one of which raised my brow a bit.
Like other wildlife groups, the FWS says it can't say for certain what the short- and long-term implications for waterfowl will be, but it will closely monitor the situation and adjust its strategy accordingly. For now, bag limits aren't expected to be adjusted, but that could change:
“While the current information we have suggests that regulatory restrictions on waterfowl hunting are unnecessary, we remain very concerned ... ,” said Paul Schmidt, the Service’s Assistant Director for Migratory Birds.
From a National harvest-management perspective, the Service intends to respond to the ongoing oil spill as it would any other non-hunting factor with the potential for substantial effects on mortality or reproduction – such as hurricanes, disease outbreaks or drought – by monitoring abundance and vital rates of waterfowl and other migratory game birds, and adjusting harvest regulations as needed on the basis of existing harvest strategies
A major aspect of the FWS' plan calls for the wide-spread creation of habitat and food sources for the ducks. I'm led to believe that a little extra food could go a long way; a similar project is being undertaken by Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl has suggested that ducks may be better at finding new food sources than we'd imagine. The FWS wants to do more than provide food near the Gulf to draw birds from oiled habitat, however; it hopes to provide food and habitat well north of the spill to protect against one worst-case scenario:
... an early winter in northern portions of the Mississippi and Central Flyways, combined with dry habitat conditions in the northern Mississippi Alluvial Valley that would result in large wintering waterfowl populations along the Gulf Coast.
I will be following one FWS proposal especially closely, as it would close duck hunting on certain refuges:
The Service is working with partners to determine whether certain refuges and other habitat should be available as “sanctuary” (areas closed to hunting) to encourage bird use of these areas and minimize redistribution due to disturbance.
While large-scale efforts to influence bird migration and distribution would be extremely difficult given the importance of weather on the timing and speed of bird migrations, actions that prompt re-distribution of birds at smaller scales could help reduce oil exposure.
Emphasis mine. This concerns me as a hunters'-rights advocate, but I am not about to condemn the proposal outright. My argument would be based on ignorance; biologists continue to investigate and everyone agrees that many questions are yet unanswered. Most assuredly, I will continue following this matter closely. Whatever the USFWS decides regarding sanctuaries and the other facets of its plan, let's hope its actions prove to be in the best interest of ducks and duck hunters. I'll keep you posted.
For more check out the FWS' overall oil spill response.