Rare Bird Alert: Common Sense in Berkeley
The national contest to paint the best duck or goose is highly anticipated, potentially career-making and usually ruffles a few feathers.
Which is why, for the first time in its 60-year history, the contest is being held in Berkeley, the place most likely to get its plumage in a bunch over the notion of shooting waterfowl.
"We want to reach out to nontraditional audiences," said Scott Flaherty, the spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which holds the annual event. "We want people to know that the single most important thing they can do to support wetland conservation is to buy a duck stamp."
The article includes the perspective of a local artist and the local chapter of National Audubon Society.
Wildlife conservationists point out that the program has also enabled the slaughter of millions of mallards, geese, grebes and other water-loving birds. Last year, the federal government sold 1.5 million duck stamps, valid for hunting in all 50 states. The bounty has created thorny ethical issues for bird lovers, who would rather see ducks in the air, not on the mantle.
"There's an uneasy alliance between hunters and environmentalists," said Berkeley wildlife artist Roger Hall, who grew up in the duck-hunting capital of Minnesota and plans to enter the contest. "But in essence, we both want the same thing. I eat animals, and I'd feel like a hypocrite to disparage others for the choices they make." [The emphasis is mine. ~akh]
Hall defended the shooting of waterfowl on grounds that the ecosystem is so unbalanced, with so few predators, that some wildlife would starve without intervention.
The Golden Gate Audubon Society was also unfazed by the stamp contest's bridgehead in Berkeley.
"Anything that supports conservation and raises public awareness, we support," said Mark Welther, the Audubon executive director. "We do not oppose hunting if it's done legally and backed by sound scientific wildlife management and good sportsmanship." [The emphasis is mine. ~akh]
WildBird readers likely have seen a mention or two of the Duck Stamp in previous issues. We want birders to become aware of the successful program and to support habitat conservation by buying the $15 annual stamps. Today, 98 cents of every dollar goes into a fund to purchase or lease wetlands and grasslands. It seems like a no-brainer to us.
We find it refreshing to encounter a Berkeley artist and an Audubon chapter's officer who share those down-to-earth views. We hope that more bird enthusiasts will let go of the unfounded disdain for waterfowl hunters, whose purchases of Duck Stamps since 1934 have paid for acres and acres of land that support birds and other wildlife -- to the benefit of birders across the country.