Three Centuries of Conservation

Yesterday’s hunt with my friend Jeff Kerry was thought-provoking. As is usual when we hunt together, we spent much of our time discussing waterfowl and waterfowl conservation. We are both very concerned about the future of waterfowl and waterfowl hunting.

Jeff and I met because we are both real estate brokers and hunters. Our first interaction was in a real estate transaction where he represented the seller and I represented the buyer of a grasslands duck club. We had so much in common that it was natural for us to become friends.

There is nobody who I know of who is more passionate or knowledgable about duck clubs in California than Jeff. He has the hands-on knowledge of managing habitat and experience dealing with people in both the private and public sector. One thing Jeff and I agree on is that we have spent much of our life trying to make a difference in conservation and we both have the feeling that we have not been able to make a significant difference.

The forces of politics, economy and the human expansion are too overwhelming for most individuals to deal with.

When I looked up Conservation in North American on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_in_the_United_States), I came upon some familiar names and some unfamiliar. But I believe that for the purposes of discussion, it is helpful to break conservation in North America into three centuries.

The first century included developing an awareness of the impact of man upon nature.

As a hunter, my view of conservation is slanted towards those who laid groundwork for and development of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Two of the most prominent individuals in that arena are Aldo Leopold and Theodore Roosevelt.

Among non-hunters two of the most prominent people I have been aware of are Henry David Thoreau and John Muir. Hunters or not, the emphasis on their work is oriented to habitat conservation and environmental health.

The men mentioned above, and many others, established principles that guided the creators of many modern conservation organizations – organizations that helped determine the theme of the second century of Conservation. A few examples of these groups are The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, The Wildlife Society and The Boone and Crockett Club.  These are some of the organizations that I grew up hearing about.

Legislation that has greatly impacted conservation at the beginning of the third century of  North American conservation is the Endangered Species Act of 1973. (http://www.fws.gov/laws/lawsdigest/esact.html)

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) has become the most powerful wildlife force in modern conservation. The reason it is powerful is because it gives the government teeth so the law can be enforced. Like all legislation that expands the powers of government, the ESA is  like a double-edged sword. It cuts in both positive and negative directions.

The way all this relates to yesterday, is that my discussion with Jeff yesterday often clarified some of the negatives of the ESA and how those negatives  impact waterfowl and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation.

As I’ve pointed out before, I believe that one of the crucial weak links in the ESA is that is too strongly protects the life of individual animals. By so strongly defending the “take” of an individual, wildlife managers are ham-strung while managing for all species. This greatly impacts waterfowl managers. For example,  plowing, mowing, predator management and herbicide use are all important aspects of successful waterfowl management. However these activities are most often precluded in areas managed for endangered species such as snakes, frogs and salamanders.

As more and more resources are dedicated to, or impacted by, management of endangered species, waterfowl species are declining. Sometimes this is due to an inability to manage effectively for waterfowl. Marsh intended for but not properly managed for waterfowl has little benefit to the birds.

Another problem is efforts to offset carbon emissions (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/14/california-carbon-offset-cap-and-trade_n_4270248.html), such as the prototype program at Mayberry. Our Mayberry duck club is being managed for carbon offsets (another form of conservation authorized by Cap-and-Trade legislation) and also as a way of preventing subsidence (ground settling due to oxidation of highly organic soils). It is my belief that this prototype is too radical and those who support it are too single-minded. Mayberry was more environmentally sound before it was converted to growing cattail. The duck club was offsetting carbon emissions and subsidence before it was converted and it was also having a tremendous benefit for waterfowl.

Today Mayberry probably produces greater carbon offset and subsidence prevention than it did as a duck club, but it has almost no benefit to waterfowl. Not only is the benefit for migrating waterfowl in winter gone, but the expected benefit to nesting waterfowl in spring has proved to be negligent.

The next phase of the Mayberry prototype is to expand it to other areas. The success of the Mayberry prototype is that it has proved that this type carbon-subsidence project can be better provided by the benefits of traditional waterfowl habitat and this radical program should not continue in its current form.

In this photo from 2010, Rob and Wes are plucking ducks facing the Mayberry Marsh as it was in 2010.

In this photo from 2010, Rob and Wes are plucking ducks facing the Mayberry Marsh as it was in 2010.

In 2011, work began to rebuild to create a permanent marsh designed for carbon offsets and subsidence prevention.

In 2011, work began to rebuild to create a permanent marsh designed for carbon offsets and subsidence prevention.

Mayberry 2012 is a paradise for fish, blackbirds and cattail, but not waterfowl.

Mayberry 2012 is a paradise for fish, blackbirds and cattail, but not waterfowl.

Over time, conservation efforts take dips and turns and not all of our ideas result in a net gain. Before taking actions that penalize one species for the benefit of another, we need to be sure it’s worth it. And, before we go berserk worrying about global warming, we need to carefully evaluate programs like Cap-And-Trade – which will have many unintended and sometimes destructive, consequences.

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