Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mourning Dove season and Dennis Anderson's diatribe

This post is in response to Dennis Anderson's diatribe in today's Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I chucked when I read Dennis Anderson's sentence, "History has shown that if you want to save something on this planet, make it a huntable or fishable species and allow a constituency to form around it."

Does this include the now extinct but formerly popular game bird called the Passenger Pigeon? Or, much more recently, the Greater Prairie-Chicken? (I saw my first in Michigan—that population is now as extinct as the Passenger Pigeon and dodo.) Hunters have done a great deal for conservation. But they've also hunted and fished some species to extinction, they fought tooth-and-nail against lead shot bans on waterfowl long after its toxicity and deleterious effects on waterfowl and raptor populations had been fully documented, and they are reluctant to even temporarily close seasons on species whose populations are in a tailspin, including Lesser Prairie-Chicken, Greater and Gunnison's Sage Grouse, Northern Pintail, Greater Scaup, Northern Bobwhite (the Number 1 most rapidly declining bird in North America, according to a National Audubon report last year) and the American Woodcock—a species Mr. Anderson uses as an example of an appropriate game bird while apparently being ignorant of its declining population.

The most successful comebacks of birds on the verge of extinction are of such species as the Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Whooping Crane, and Kirtland's Warbler. All but the Whooping Crane were never considered game birds, and in the case of the Whooping Crane, their comeback is in large part because their game bird status was entirely removed. Even today, hunters with poor identification skills jeopardize their recovery. Hunters in California did their best to prevent the state from adopting a non-lead-bullet law despite the critical state of the California Condor population, and despite compelling evidence that these inoffensive scavengers were dying specifically from the lead they were picking up from game animal and "vermin" carcasses shot by hunters.

Throughout American history, every bit of good that hunters have done for conservation has been done in concert with farmers, land owners, and organizations such as Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and the Humane Society. There have always been antagonisms between these groups as well, but in the end, civilized debate has led to reasonable compromises. These compromises include the federal Migratory Bird Act and the various state regulations elucidating which species can be lawfully hunted. For 60 years, the Mourning Dove was not legally hunted in Minnesota. What reason has there now been to change this except the current and dramatic drops in the populations of so many legal game birds, giving hunters few options short of working harder and more passionately to help those species recover? Mr. Anderson may decry the passion that so many anti-dove-season people have brought to this debate. But where was the passion that hunters brought to the debate about non-lead shot? Where is the passion that hunters bring to the debate about closing the woodcock season until we learn why its population is in decline? Mr. Anderson apparently only accepts passion over reason when it's his own. One expects newspaper columnists to have strong opinions. But in a civilized world, these passions should be based on sound information, not ignorance.

There may be valid reasons why Mourning Doves were added to the list of legal game species in Minnesota. But in his entire mean-spirited, passionate diatribe, Mr. Anderson hasn't provided his readers with a single one.


  1. A couple of years ago, the Michigan legislature voted to designate mourning doves as game birds. To our collective outrage, Gov. Granholm signed the bill even though she'd said she didn't think mourning doves should be hunted. Fortunately, a ballot initiative overturned the law.

    I have mourning doves in my back yard. I can't imagine how anybody could consider them a game bird.

  2. "History has shown that if you want to save something on this planet, make it a huntable or fishable species and allow a constituency to form around it."
    I also found this ridiculous comment laughable. I find it hard to believe that the only way to save a species is to allow it to legally be killed by humans.

  3. Right on, Laura! What would columnist Anderson say about the Eastern Blue Bird, which has never been a huntable bird, but has been brought back from drastically reduced numbers by Scouts, Auduboners and nature lovers in general who put up and monitor nest boxes. Mr. Anderson also seem to ignore the fact that so much of nature has many constituencies: a forest will be loved by bird watchers, mycologists, botanists, entomologists, and on and on.
    And a bird species, whether a game bird or not, can be appreciated by many of us, whether or not our aim is to shoot it. We need to get over this 'game' and 'nongame' focus and begin to preserve the entire web of the natural world.

  4. I also agree with almost everything you mentioned Laura. But Wood Ducks are one example (probably the most successful) of a species benefiting from the thousands, millions of duck boxes built and installed by hunters and others. I recently read that they are the most common duck species in our area.

  5. You're absolutely right that Wood Ducks benefitted from hunters and others setting out nest boxes, and such wonderful groups as Ducks Unlimited have continued to work tirelessly to ensure that Wood Ducks do, indeed, continue forever. But their population was originally depleted by overharvesting as well as deforestation and loss of wetlands, and the single most important thing that brought them back was the protection afforded them by the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. At that time there was a far greater consensus among hunters that when a bird was in decline, it made sense to reduce or entirely eliminate hunting of it until it recovered. Now some hunters feel under attack for simply being hunters, and some hunters have an over-developed supply of testosterone, and between feeling under siege and overly aggressive, they're less willing to enter genuine dialogs or to even consider that harvesting some species that are facing an array of problems may be one contributing factor in their decline.

  6. Come on Laura, It's time for hunters and non hunters to work together for the good of wildlife. This is what you need to be preaching!

  7. I agree, Carl. But where in Dennis Anderson's diatribe, the subject at hand, was there a single line about hunters and non-hunters working together? When ANY groups work together, they must be open-minded enough to listen to criticism and big enough to make concessions when they could improve. I don't see that this has happened in this debate. I offered written testimony to the DNR, via the Humane Society, regarding some issues involved in the Mourning Dove hunt--specifically non-toxic shot (there are many studies indicating lead shot harms doves as well as non-target species picking it up as grit, yet the DNR approved the dove season while allowing lead shot to be used), and closing or limiting the hunt in Northeastern Minnesota--the area with the fewest doves in the contiguous United States. Yet Anderson writes as if there were no substantive, data-supported arguments presented by the Humane Society. How can non-hunters possibly work with hunters when dealing with this kind of crap?

  8. well one thing for sure I have yet to see anyone dove hunting in southeastern Minnesota

  9. I haven't seen or heard of dove hunting in northeastern Minnesota either. Dove hunting is simply not a tradition in Minnesota, and I think many hunters have the same uncomfortable feeling about shooting backyard birds that non-hunters do. It IS different in western Minnesota, because they are close to the Dakotas, where dove hunting has been a long-standing tradition. That's part of what is so frustrating about how the DNR dealt with this, steamrolling it through without even considering zoning the state or requiring non-lead shot. It's as if they were actually fanning the flames that made most of the debate focus on hunters vs. anti-hunters rather than looking at the Mourning Dove hunt as a specific issue. A LOT of hunters told me they were totally opposed to the hunt until they felt attacked for hunting at all. Good debate moderators should have required at the outset that any speakers on either side restrict their comments to this specific issue.

  10. "History has shown that if you want to save something on this planet, make it a huntable or fishable species and allow a constituency to form around it."
    The greater prairie chicken did not die from over hunting it died from habitat loss due to farming. Wild life management areas are put into place with hunter’s money using the funds to manage the numbers of a species making them plentiful enough for the hunters to harvest. While there have been cases of overhunting a species it is usually do to some market value of the animals , such as shark fin soup, whale oil, seal coats, etc.. The more hunters there are spending money the more habitat is preserved for the species and the greater their chance of survival. Also hunting and eating wild animals would seem more humane to me than eating animals that have been caged all their lives.

  11. It has been shown that mourning dove populations are not adversely affected by hunting across the United States. The birds themselves are short lived with good reproduction rates and are more likely to fall to bad weather and predators than to hunters. As to the originally quoted article about how hunting can benefit a species, It should be pointed out that hunters across this nation specifically set aside habitat in order to grow and manipulate crops for doves. This is indeed a benefit to the birds and their populations when compared to the numbers a hunter may actually take. No other group in this country contributes more (money or otherwise) to habitat and wildlife conservation than hunters.

  12. You're right, Zack, but it's equally true that no other group fought harder against requiring non-lead shot over wetlands, non-lead bullets in California Condor range, and is still fighting against non-lead shot and bullets for all hunting, despite a HUGE amount of evidence that this toxic shot is harming many individuals and some populations of birds and other wildlife.

    The most compelling arguments against hunting Mourning Doves in those states for which they've not been hunted in generations are more about what makes us designate one species a gamebird or not. Robins were feasted upon for a long time. Do you feel that since they have a large population, they should, too, be a legitimate gamebird?

  13. The issue of lead shot has been around for some time. I believe the banning of lead for waterfowl hunting was brought about in 91. As with any change that affects a large number of people, there will be those who are not satisfied with the reasoning behind it.... Not to mention the doubling or tripling of ammunition prices. Most would see that as a veiled attempt by other groups to discourage them from a traditional pastime. The opposition of some in no way negates the contributions of the whole.

    As far as the type of species seen as "game animals", that should be left up to the DNR following the will of the people. This is what happened in Michigan. If robins were once considered desirable for the table but have now fallen out of favor as such then I see them as a non issue. Even if there was a push for hunting them it would be necessary to study the population and other variables to determine if they could take the hunting pressure.

    Doves on the other hand are one of the most hunted migratory birds in the United Sates. There are only a few States that do not have an existing dove season and therefore it is considered by the majority as a game species.

  14. Your points are well-taken. Unfortunately, as with many debaters, you're far better at taking issue with each point of mine than at trying to see the validity of my points to reach some sort of truth. A careful reading of my post and my comments will show you that I like (most) hunters, and I accept the validity of hunting as a legitimate sport. There were specific points of Dennis Anderson's article with which I took issue--he was ridiculing those on the other side of his debate, using ad hominems and ignoring actual testimony that didn't jibe with his false claims. And there are many cases of hunters continuing to hunt severely declining species even today--Sharp-tailed Grouse should be taken off game bird lists in the upper Midwest until we know what's happening with them, and the Northern Bobwhite, long a popular gamebird, is now the most declining of all formerly common birds according to several sources. Once a species reaches a level where it provides too little sport, hunters seem to move on to the next species, always patting themselves on the back for protecting habitat, as if people like me, who have never fired a shot but still buy a Duck Stamp every year, do nothing at all.

  15. I do accept the validity of your points and appreciate the fact that you do not put them forth in a condescending manner. I hope that I have responded in kind. I do tend to pick out the points of anothers writing in order to make my arguments but that is the best way I know to respond.

    Your statement of recognizing hunting as a legitimate sport is well taken. There are many who just will not accept that view(not that they have to) and
    the issue is therefore thrust into one of emotionalism from pro and con persons alike.

    I applaude your choice of purchasing a duck stamp even though you do not hunt. I can only hope that there are many others who follow your example.
    The funds from those purchases enable wildlife divisions across the country to better care for our wildlife resources.

  16. I think you are another ignorant liberal. I mean come on it's our right to own weapons and it's environmentalist people like you who want to take away our rights for "global peace". This only gives more power to communist nations; is that what you democrats want? Sooner or later we become socialist, then maybe communist. Do any of you read the Bible? Even if you don't, is the "save the trees and kill the children" view of America make any sense at all? You people should really reconsider who you really support.

  17. Normally I delete comments that are simple-minded diatribes, but I'm leaving the above just so people are aware that there are two sides to the issue of Mourning Dove seasons. Nowhere do I or anyone else here make the slightest suggestion about taking away anyone's right to hunt. I'm not opposed to Mourning Dove hunts in other states, where there is both a breeding AND wintering population large enough to support a hunt. I'm very specific about the issues that are specific to Mourning Doves in Minnesota.

    My whole life I've spent working to make the world better for birds AND for children. This kind of bullshit post is frustrating beyond measure because it has no content except to spew out some Faux News talking points.