MN agency director will ask for 2-year

spectr17

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Fair play for ducks?.

Mechanical decoys may be target of ban

By CHRIS NISKANEN, KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

ST. PAUL, Minn. - After years of simmering debate over hunters' use of new and ever-widening technology, Tim Bremicker might have finally opened Pandora's Box on the subject.

Bremicker is director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife. Last week, he said the agency would ask the state Legislature to consider a two-year moratorium on the use of spinning- or flapping-wing duck decoys. Bremicker said he thought use of the controversial decoys was proliferating, and he wants biologists to study the devices before the situation gets out of control.

It was probably time DNR officials drew some line in the sand over emerging hunting technology, if only to get the debate in the spotlight. But in mechanical decoys, Bremicker has picked a fight that has limited scientific data behind it, won't get the full support of hunters and probably raises more questions than it answers.

Spinning-wing decoys, which have dozens of brand names such as Robo Duck, Mojo Duck and the Winged Wonder, sprang on the scene about three years ago. The battery-powered decoys have spinning wings that simulate the wing movement of a landing duck. The idea is that live ducks are drawn by the decoys because ducks never would land somewhere that's dangerous.

Studies conducted in California, Missouri and Manitoba have shown hunters kill more ducks while using the decoys, though to varying degrees. Some biologists, including Bremicker, have speculated that the decoys' effectiveness will increase the duck harvest to the point that states will have to lower bag limits or shorten seasons.


Unfair advantage



Last fall, the state of Washington banned the decoys, but mostly on grounds they were unethical and ran counter to the "fair chase" ethics of hunting. California recently banned the decoys during the first half of duck season because biologists feared that locally raised ducks, which can be "uneducated" about hunters, were vulnerable to the decoys.

So, how popular are the decoys? In some states, usage might be as high as 70 or 80 percent, but a survey of Minnesota hunters last summer suggested only 10 percent use them. That number, though, likely grew substantially this year because retailers said the decoys were flying off the shelves.

The DNR's request for a decoy moratorium raises some interesting issues.you

In fact, many hunters say the decoys don't always work and some ducks actually do get "flapperized" (i.e., habituated) to avoid the decoys. As one biologist said of the decoys, "They're not the silver bullet."

Another point: Minnesota hunters won't give up their spinning-wing decoys if Minnesota is the only state in the Mississippi Flyway to do so. Consider that hunters in other flyway states, mostly in the South, average 15 to 22 ducks a season while Minnesota hunters average only six to eight ducks a season. So far, no other states in the flyway have considered banning the decoys.


Don't take my decoy . . . please!



There's also no groundswell among Minnesota hunters to restrict the decoys. Only 32 percent of the surveyed hunters thought the decoys were somewhat effective, 12 percent thought they were very effective, and 52 percent didn't know. Given that thousands have been sold in the past two years, at $100 to $200 a pop, it's unlikely many hunters would stand up and say, "Take away my Robo Duck, please."

The other wild card: No one knows how many Minnesota lawmakers own the decoys.

The DNR plans to spend $35,000 to hire Al Afton, a former Minnesota waterfowl biologist and current faculty member at Louisiana State University, to study the effectiveness of spinning-wing decoys. Afton said Monday he plans to conduct the most thorough study to date of the decoys. He plans to use special isotopic tests on ducks killed by hunters using the decoys to see if the ducks are migrants or resident ducks. He hopes to get to the bottom of the issue of whether the decoys are more effective on locally raised ducks. The results, though, won't be ready for several years.


In the meantime, the DNR has a difficult road ahead selling its two-year moratorium on the decoys. I can picture the lawmakers debating the issue now:

Men and women in suits huddled around a large table, their eyes transfixed by the rotating wings of a Mojo Duck while a DNR official issues a dire warning.

Then the meeting adjourns so everyone can go buy their own.
 



limit7

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I guess "robo ducks" will be on sale soon....
 


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