In 2005, I met with Jimmy Nosler of Holly Grove, Bob Rogers of Hazen and the late Gary Robinson, former Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer for Monroe County, to discuss changes in duck migration patterns that they were witnessing in southeast Arkansas.
Ducks were arriving later and later, and no longer were they witnessing the major arrivals in the flooded timber of the White River National Wildlife Refuge. Businesses that depended on duck hunting have closed. These were coffee shop murmurings in 2005, but now the rest of the nation has noticed.
Rogers, who worked in the agricultural industry at that time, said that a big part of the problem was that modern harvesting equipment leaves very little rice in the fields after harvest. Ducks arrived to find a lot less food in the fields, and there is not enough flooded timber to provide enough acorns for all the ducks in the Central Flyway.
Meanwhile, waterfowl hunters in the Midwest and their respective wildlife management agencies have discovered that there's big money in duck hunting. Outfitters in Missouri and elsewhere are enjoying banner seasons, and their state agencies are enjoying selling more resident and non-resident duck hunting licenses. They are also providing a lot of food to welcome waterfowl, and milder winters enable ducks to stay longer.
Southern hunters are blaming the Midwest for shortstopping "our" ducks --actually Saskatchewan's and South Dakota's ducks -- by not harvesting vast acreages of grain that are planted and cultivated for waterfowl. This practice is called "hot cropping," and duck hunters in Arkansas and Louisiana want it stopped.
Specifically, they want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt or reinterpret regulations to prohibit flooding unharvested grain for ducks. They also want baiting regulations to be expanded to make it illegal to hunt ducks over unharvested grain fields.
Josh Goins of DeQuincy, La., chief executive officer of Flyway Federation U.S.A., spearheads this campaign. In a recent article in Wildfowl, Goins said that flooding corn is not a normal farming practice, and that it constitutes manipulation.
"I think it's one reason we don't have nearly as many ducks in Louisiana as we used to," Goins said in the article. "They don't need to fly south anymore."
Flooding grain is legal. State wildlife management agencies do it on state land, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leaves tens of thousands of acres of corn unharvested on federal wildlife refuges, as we recently discussed in this space.
Mike Eichholz, assistant professor of wetlands ecology at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said in Wildfowl that its effect on duck migrations is minimal. Different sources volley back and forth inconclusively, but hot-cropping opponents say it's unethical to hunt ducks over unharvested grain.
If that's true, then it's also unethical to hunt them over unharvested rice, milo or millet in Arkansas, too. Not harvesting rice, milo and millet is not a normal farming practice, either. Outlawing the practice in the Midwest would outlaw it here, too. Hunters, landowners and ducks would suffer.
Another flaw in the anti- "hot cropping" argument is that "hot cropping" is not known to adversely affect waterfowl populations. Providing food and habitat benefits wildlife unless, of course, it enables your neighbor to kill more ducks than you do.
Private property rights is another issue, and whether a federal agency has the authority to dictate how how a landowner may use his property. Central diktat of agricultural policy had genocidal results in Stalinist Russia and in communist China under Mao Zedong.
If we accept the premise that agricultural practices in Arkansas altered duck migration practices, then we must also accept that Arkansas created a void for somebody else to fill. Rather than try to get in our neighbors' business (bigger neighbors with larger representation in Congress), then maybe we ought to work harder to improve things for ducks here.
Cold winters will return eventually. When they do, we would be smart to make ducks feel welcome enough to stay when they arrive.
Sports on 04/07/2019
Print Headline: Midwesterners pick up where Arkansas fumbled