A Defining Moment Awaits Ducks And Duck Hunting

This morning at 9:00am duck season opened here in Minnesota.   Back 20 years ago you would have found me either jump-shooting ducks along some small river, or perhaps readying the decoys on some lake for the then noon-time opener.   During that time in my life duck hunting was an important fall ritual.   As the leaves on the landscape started their explosion of colors, duck hunting signaled to me that indeed the fall hunting seasons had truly arrived in earnest.

I’m sad to say things just don’t happen that way any longer.   Perhaps my interest in duck hunting has waned a bit…more likely the explanation is my free-time has undergone a rearrangement of priorities.   Whatever the case, the truth is I just don’t feel as passionate about hunting ducks as I did back in my youth.

Even so, for the past 30 years I have religiously purchased my state and federal duck stamps even though I didn’t always need them for licensing purposes.   I always felt it was a good and proper thing to support waterfowl and wetlands conservation by making this small donation.   I also have spent thousands of dollars on attending Ducks Unlimited banquets over the years…both on the meals and all the fun activities that take place at those events.   In business, I have worked on fundraising efforts that over the past 15 years totals nearly a quarter of a million dollars donated to DU.   Suffice it to say, even though my interest in duck hunting may have peaked several years ago…my commitment toward doing my part to financially support the conservation efforts has not wavered over this same time.

In Minnesota duck numbers have been on the decline for quite some time.   There’s various explanations for why this is likely occurring, but nevertheless it is frustrating.   Estimates show that over the years nearly $600 million has been generated and spent in Canada to improve and preserve our vital wetland habitats.      Some have suggested this money has not been well invested…and they may have a strong argument.   This is critical because here in my state well over 70 percent of the ducks shot cross the border from Canada.   No doubt about it what happens in Canada has a direct impact on how many of us enjoy the sport of duck hunting—no matter where you might live.

Many of us can sense that we are closing in on a defining moment in waterfowl conservation.   Money doesn’t seem to be an issue…for well over 60 years waterfowl conservation has been one of the most well funded wildlife programs in history.   Name another species of game that has received as much attention and resources for developing conservation measures than waterfowl?   Truth is…there just isn’t any.   And despite the successful, and albeit very necessary money-raising efforts, what have we got to show for our investment?   A declining resource, at least in many areas, that is leaving hunters/conservationists frustrated because of the diminishing population trends for many duck species.

I’m not here to suggest I know the answer.   Quite honestly, this problem is so multi-faceted I’m not even convinced that all the experts really have a solid grasp on what needs to be done to change the course.   Obviously throwing money at the problem is not a solution in itself.   Yet, of course, money is vitally needed and will continue to be needed long into the future.

When you buy licenses, belong to conservation organizations and attend fundraising functions you expect to see results.   Certainly not to pick on DU as they are one of the truly great conservation organizations of our time. Yet, when you leave a DU banquet having spent more than you ordinarily would spend on a night out…this feeling is easily mitigated when you reason you “did it for the ducks.”   I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this mantra repeated over the years.

The problem is, for most of us sportsmen we view conservation spending akin to investing money in a bank.   For example, if we shell out $200 and “do it for the ducks” we expect to eventually see positive results with our money.   Instead, the general consensus among many waterfowlers has been we are seeing substantially depreciated returns on our money.   Perhaps it’s time we take a critical look at waterfowl conservation spending—both in Canada and domestically—to readjust our conservation portfolio.   Most sportsmen equate ducks as the great dividends we receive from our conservation investments…and when the dividends start to dry up then perhaps it is time to better scrutinize how that money is being spent.

The bottom line is I want to see more ducks flying in the skies.   I’m not naive to say this alone would get me back into the marsh or puddle-jumping for ducks.   Truth is over the years I have gravitated toward interests other than waterfowling…and that’s perfectly okay.   Still, that doesn’t mean my interest in seeing a thriving, healthy waterfowl resource is any less than it ever has been.   I’ll continue spending my hard-earned dollars on ducks…but the folks entrusted with spending that money better start doing a better job with the fiduciary responsibility they’ve been given to show more positive results.

Many of the hard-core waterfowlers I’ve known are beginning to lose hope that we’ll ever see “the good ol’ days” of waterfowling once again.   What a shame.   Along with that fleeting hope may soon come diminishing dollars for wetlands conservation.   Certainly the problem of ducks is more than just money…but to accomplish just about anything these days requires adequate funding, so there’s no denying the importance of seeing funding resources continue.   It’s time, however, for the decision makers to realize that the patrons are expecting to see some positive returns on their shares.   To improve our current situation, perhaps some attitudes and philosophies need to be adjusted before it’s too late…and my hunch is it needs to happen soon!

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.  No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.

USS Oriskany CV-34 Sunk For Reef Creation

Today, being a holiday, it will be a fairly abbreviated blog post, but there is one thing that happened a few weeks ago that might be of particular interest…especially to fishermen who occasionally like to do some off-shore fishing down in the Gulf of Mexico.   Here’s an example of the Navy putting its old ships to good use.   Read more about the interesting story of the sinking of the USS Oriskany here and here.   But what I mostly wanted to call your attention to are the spectacular pictures of watching a big naval ship sink that are located on the link below:


Isn’t it nice to know these big ships continue to serve a good purpose long after being decommissioned by the U.S. Navy…rather than becoming some Naval shipyard eyesore?   To the personnel who served on this once fine ship…on this memorial day it must be sad to see so much history laid to a final rest, yet it must be encouraging to know this ship has many more years of function left in her, albeit in a totally different capacity.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Much Optimism Surrounds This Lake Revival

RedlakeSpend any amount of time talking about walleye fishing in Minnesota this spring and surely two words will eventually pop up in the conversation.   RED LAKE.   What has all the fishermen so excited is a tale of a lake that was by all accounts fished to the extreme by Native Americans and non-band members, both legally and through unregulated poaching.   By the turn of the new Millennium, the lake was on the verge of the walleye population completely disappearing from this large body of water.

But this is a story with a happy ending (or should I say beginning).   In fact, even to many of the experts who worked on the restoration project, they are amazed how in less than a decade a fishery could rebound from nearly collapsing to today becoming one of the hottest walleye waters found in North America.   Indeed, reports from several sources are expecting that anglers will be more apt to catch a walleye on their hook than perhaps a crappie come Saturday for the fishing opener.   And that’s saying that both species are quite plentiful these days.

The past few years during the recovery program, all the walleye that might have ended up on an angler’s line were to be thrown back.   That all changes come Saturday.   At 12:01am Saturday morning some lucky fisherman will hoist the first legal walleye out of Red Lake in nearly a decade.   And with that catch marks the dawn of a new era of fishing on this storied body of water in Northern Minnesota.

Gone are the days when the Minnesota DNR and the local Indian band work independent of one another.   Today, a new cooperative spirit thrives and has allowed this fisheries to once again regain the walleye mystique of its past.   It’s been years since the largest lake within the borders of Minnesota has seen this kind of excited fishing anticipation.   No doubt about it, there’s a palpable buzz that’s being created throughout the Midwest because a long-term fishery has been officially taken off life-support and the prognosis couldn’t be much better for a healthy future.Warden

As fisherman get accustomed to Red Lake’s new 2 walleye limit with a 17” to 26” protected slot limit, lake officials are reminding anglers that if this recovery is to succeed it will mean strict enforcement of the new rules.   Expect band officers as well as Minnesota CO’s to be patrolling the waters heavily throughout the year.

Indeed, both the state and the Native Americans who control the resource management on the lake have been given a second chance.   This time they’re not about to mess it up by failing to cooperate.   At the present time they’re also not about to let greed and over-harvest impact a resource that is so meaningful not only to the sportsman, but also to the local Indian culture.   Let’s hope that attitude remains unwaivering in the years to come.

Whether your destination is Red Lake this weekend…or perhaps another lake within Minnesota to wet a line…or even if you are sitting in another state just reading this blog wondering what all the hype is about…it’s about succeeding at managing a fisheries resource.   As sportsmen we can all rejoice in the success.   In fact, it was the fishermen themselves who formed Upper Red Lake Area Association and who advised the DNR on what actions needed to be done to reestablish Red Lake.

Perhaps that’s one of the biggest reasons this is such a sweet conservation success story.   Fishermen directing the state officials while also doing a large amount of volunteer work to make the revival happen.   And with this grassroots approach to managing the fisheries, it could be said that truly everyone has a vested interest in seeing the waters succeed and stay healthy this time around.   And the outlook…as for the foreseeable future things couldn’t look much brighter for this big Northern Minnesota walleye factory.

2006 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.