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The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will vote Sept. 20 on a regulation that will specify which days non-residents may hunt ducks on wildlife management areas.

The proposed regulation will allow non-residents to hunt ducks on WMAs from Nov. 17-25 during the first segment of duck season, Dec. 26-Jan. 6 during the second segment and Jan. 19-27 during the third segment.

The commission cites overcrowding on wildlife management areas during duck season to justify the proposed regulation. Resident duck hunters have long complained that non-resident hunters contribute disproportionately to overcrowding on areas like Bayou Meto, Shirey Bay Rainey Brake and Dave Donaldson Black River WMAs.

Dusty McDaniel, an Arkansas resident and an ardent duck hunter, said that the proposed dates in the second and third segments are prime hunting times in the green tree reservoirs. Concentrating non-resident hunters into those 12- and 9-day segments, McDaniel said, will actually exacerbate overcrowding on the WMAs during those dates.

Furthermore, nonresidents might believe that that they are entitled to preferential treatment during those segments. This might increase and intensify conflicts between resident and non-resident duck hunters, McDaniel said. Resident duck hunters might well concur and abandon the WMAs during the non-resident hunting segments.

Advocates for limiting non-resident access to WMAs say that overcrowding has already caused many residents to quit hunting in green tree reservoirs.

Last year, the commission passed a regulation that limited nonresident duck hunters to a total of 30 days hunting on WMAs by way of special five-day WMA duck hunting permits. That regulation distributed nonresident hunting pressure across the 60-day duck season.

Compressing 30 days of nonresident duck hunting to three distinct segments will eliminate nonresident presence outside of those three segments. Theoretically, the resulting decrease in hunter density would constitute a void.

It follows that residents will return to fill that void.

If encouraging more resident hunters to hunt in WMAs is a desired consequence, then overcrowding will still exist. The problem will not have been solved, then the hunting experience will not improve.

That's the micro perspective.

Here's the macro perspective.

Duck hunting is an important event in Arkansas and a major economic force during a season when most of the tourism economy is idle. We are blessed in that regard because our geographic location, coupled with a unique convergence of rivers and agriculture, attract the majority of ducks that migrate down the Central Flyway.

A conspicuous percentage of duck hunting occurs in public areas containing flooded timber that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had the foresight to purchase over many decades.

An entire business model has evolved around hunting ducks, a transient resource. A significant component of that model revolves around hunting ducks on state-owned land. Sporting gear manufacturers market entire product lines oriented to hunting ducks on public land in Arkansas, and almost all magazine articles, cable TV shows and internet videos about duck hunting in Arkansas occur on public ground.

Before 2017-18, many nonresidents stayed in Arkansas for the entire 60-day duck season. Incentivized by unregulated access to public land, some even bought property abutting green tree wildlife management areas. Some unscrupulous characters even try to use their property to claim Arkansas residency in order to purchase lifetime Arkansas hunting licenses.

Many Arkansans believe that the current model is unsustainable. There is too much demand for a static resource. The commission is under pressure to evolve its management to ensure a sustainable balance between ducks and the tribes of hunters that pursue them.

If we truly want the best for ducks and their habitat, we cannot manage them as market commodities. If we prioritize economics over wise-use conservation, then the result is merely a modern incarnation of market hunting.

Fortunately, federal and state regulations protect ducks from overhunting, but a market-based management paradigm actually cheapens the resource and corrupts the spirit of hunting.

If overcrowding is indeed a problem, it's not just an inconvenience for hunters. It's detrimental to the resource.

Sports on 09/06/2018

Print Headline: Duck hunting plan has limitations

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