Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Commentary: Probing the Canadian duck baiting conundrum

A decision by the Canadian Wildlife Service to suspend for a year the long-time policy of allowing restricted baiting or “supplemental feeding” of waterfowl has renewed an ageold debate: To bait, or not to bait.

The issue has particular interest in Michigan, where many waterfowlers believe that Canada is holding ducks hostage for their gunners until freeze-up. Whereupon the ducks engage in a “grand passage” and simply fly south, thus cheating hunters here of opportunity.

The issue long has been a sore subject, particularly along Lake St. Clair
and western Lake Erie, whose Canadian shores are home to big duck clubs,
a national waterfowl sanctuary, and the independent Walpole Island, a
First Nations tribal reservation that sets its own rules. (Aside:
Ontario-side, easternshore Lake St. Clair duck hunting, linked to
hunting legally near baiting areas, long has been enjoyed by well-heeled
American gunners who hunt as clients at clubs there. So, holier
than-thou finger-pointing from this side of the lake becomes
problematic.)

A companion issue is permitting the hunting of ducks and other fowl in
flooded cornfields. That is legal on both sides of the border, through
dump-baiting is illegal in the United States. Critics of hunting flooded
corn contend, perhaps rightly, that it is just baiting by another name
in another costume.

The practice even has given rise to “corn clubs,” waterfowling clubs
dedicated to hunting flooded corn instead of marshes. Marshes, of
course, are costly, very costly, to own and maintain, inasmuch as they require dikes and water-management via pumping.

Long gone are the historic days when some 300,000 acres of natural
marshlands ebbed and flowed along western Lake Erie, from Monroe, Mich.,
south to Toledo.

But the nagging question is, have we turned ducks and other fowl into
“corncaine” addicts for our guns, or are they better off with the extra
mansupplied feed? Teasing out the whys and wherefores on baiting ducks
has more pitfalls and hipdeep muck-holes than wading a marsh.

The driving force behind Canada’s current exception to issuance of bait
permits is rooted in a severe outbreak of bird flu, or “highly
pathenogenic avian influenza” (HPAI).

Thousands of waterfowl have been found dead in Canada, which wants to protect its
billion-dollar domestic poultry industry. And baiting inevitably helps
concentrate birds, which is not wanted in a flu outbreak.

Mike Ervin, a waterfowl biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said
that Canadian baiting suspension was discussed at a meeting of the
bilateral Mississippi Flyway Council. The wildlife division’s gamebird
technical representative to the Council, Ervin said that the theory that
Canadian baiting holds ducks is sound, but it has not been thoroughly
studied.

He noted that it is against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) rules here to bait
ducks, but the USFWS nonetheless allows hunting in flooded corn.

“At the end of the day you wonder whether one is better than the other,” he
said. Neither is natural, he added, and “you wonder whether we’re
shooting our foot off.”

The Canadian Wildlife Service, a federal agency in that country, says this
year’s suspension of baiting permits may be a one-off decision. Its
parent agency, Environment Canada, states: “While the
conservation benefits of bait authorizations are understood, it was
determined that the decision to not issue bait authorizations for a
single year, during an unprecedented wildlife disease outbreak, should
not compromise the long-term ecological benefits of this activity. This
decision was made through consultation with partner organizations and as
a result of the present state of scientific knowledge and the
anticipated fall/winter resurgence of the current strain of HPAI (H5N1)
circulating in North America.

“Federal bait authorizations will be revisited next year as we will have a
better understanding of the virus and how it affects North American
waterfowl,” said Shannon Badzinski, a waterfowl biologist with the
Canadian Wildlife Service-Ontario.

“Among wild bird species, the severity of disease can be extremely variable,”
CWS states. “While many species of dabbling ducks do not appear to be
dying in large numbers from the virus, they are known reservoirs of
influenza A viruses and thought to play an important role in the
transmission on the landscape through transportation and shedding of the
virus.

Other species that frequently interact with dabbling ducks have proven vulnerable to
infection, including bay ducks (e.g., scaup, redhead, canvasback), sea
ducks (mergansers), geese, swans, and other waterbirds.

“Additionally, predators and scavengers, such as eagles, hawks, owls, and vultures, have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. Mammalian predators and scavengers (e.g., foxes,
skunks, mink) have also died from H5N1 infection. As of Oct. 21, there
have been an estimated total number of 23,955 HPAI-related sick and dead
wild birds reported across the country.”

Other than permitted areas, baiting generally is banned in Canada. Canadian
regulations for permits require written permission from every landowner/
lessee/tenant within 400 meters of the proposed baited area. Signs must
be posted so noting, and bait can be dumped only at set periods well
before hunting seasons, and before freeze-up.

Editor’s note: Steve Pollick is a regular contributor to the Outdoor News publications. This is part one of a two-part commentary on the topic of waterfowl baiting in Canada. Read part two here

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