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.