Nostalgia may not entirely deserve the low opinion that some have of it. There’s the nostalgia that looks back uncritically at the past, remembering the good stuff and forgetting the bad. “The good old days,” pretty well sums up this kind of nostalgia.
Then there’s more thoughtful nostalgia, with credible logic that in the move from the past to the present, something has been lost. For example, we once believed that computers and global electronic communication would reduce our workloads and give us more leisure time. Instead, we’ve made it possible to be on-the-job no matter where we are, no matter what time of the day or night - or weekend - it is. Many have lost a little, or a lot, of leisure or “safe” time away from the daily grind.
It once was possible to change your car’s oil, or spark plugs, or replace a valve cover gasket if you could work a simple socket wrench or find the drain plug on your engine’s oil pan. But with most of today’s automotive designs, there isn’t room under the hood to even reach the oil filter; let alone replace it. You probably need your vehicle high overhead on a hydraulic lift, like your mechanic has. With today’s more complex engines, you might have to remove an intake manifold just to replace those spark plugs. A car dealer recently proposed that my son spend $600 in labor for the procedure. I can remember pulling cables off spark plugs, replacing six plugs at $2.75 each, and snapping those cables back on myself. From a standpoint of do-it-yourself vehicle maintenance, those were the good old days.
I also feel nostalgia for a time before some recent changes in wildlife management practices. Particularly worth mentioning—since we’re in the middle of the 2019 waterfowl season—are the rules that govern the harvest of migratory birds; chiefly, ducks and geese. This topic arose with the publishing just a week ago of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed regulations for the 2020 hunting season.
Yes, 2020, when we are still only halfway through the 2019 season. For the record, in the process of setting these regulations there is a series of meetings, public comments taken and—we hope—those comments considered by the professional biologists. Truly final rules will not be set until February of 2020. But that is still a far cry from how things were done in the past.
Before 2016, duck and goose hunting limits and seasons were not set until summer, when there was information on the current year’s breeding population, and therefore the projected fall abundance. It made sense to set season length and bag limits that took into account the most complete and genuine data on how many ducks or geese there were in the current year, not the year past; particularly for what the USFWS calls “species of special concern,” ducks or geese whose abundance is less than ideal; like bluebills (scaup), pintails or black ducks.
But that changed with a strategy known as “adaptive harvest management,” or AHM, beginning with the 2016 season. In typically complex government-speak, this was described as “making decisions for migratory bird harvest … based on predictions derived from long-term biological information and established harvest strategies.”
In practical terms, it basically means ignoring spring breeding populations, or breeding success, except in dire circumstances that would justify last-minute changes. It took pressure off biologists to gather data, analyze it and translate it into season lengths and bag limits so the states could set their waterfowl hunting seasons as soon as possible. Now, the states can expect to “select and publish their season dates in early summer,” not near to the actual opening of the hunt.
Another justification made at the time of this change was hunter convenience. Hunters could make their plans farther in advance, knowing season dates and bag limits sooner. But waterfowl hunters serious about limiting duck and goose harvest to sustainable levels had to work hard to find logic in it. The most compelling reason seemed to be convenience, not conservation.
For the record, though nothing will be final until February of 2020, the USFWS is currently proposing for next season “the same regulatory alternatives that are effect for the 2019 season.” This is what the USFWS considers a “liberal” framework, and would mean that Minnesota—for example—could have a 60-day season and 6 duck daily harvest limit, with some special restrictions on wood ducks, mallards, redheads, canvasback, bluebills and black ducks.
“Could, rather than “would,” because states are free to be more restrictive than the USFWS framework allows. But realistically, Minnesota has not been restrictive in recent years, in a pattern that many see as an effort to increase hunter success, and thereby contribute to retaining ad recruiting waterfowl hunters, whose numbers have been in serious decline in recent years.
Instead of a 12 noon shooting hour on the season’s first day as we once had—the purpose being to protect locally breeding birds, and let them gradually adapt to hunting season pressure—we open the season one-half hour before sunrise. Especially when they’ve not been in a duck blind for 10 or 11 months, too few hunters can tell what they’re shooting in such poor light. Some rarely can, which might be an argument for setting the shooting hour at sunrise—not a half hour before—for the remainder of the season.
Minnesota has also moved to the earliest possible duck hunting opening date, this year’s season beginning in Sept. 21, a full two weeks before the traditional early October openings I remember from so many seasons past. The logic behind this—and there is logic here—is that it gives Minnesota hunters a better chance at harvesting early-migrating blue-winged teal, many of which are beyond our southern border by October. Others would argue that late nesting hens, and less mature young from re-nesting efforts, are not yet ready for the rigors that the hunt presents.
Natural resource managers are under pressure to deliver a satisfying experience to their “clients,” which anglers and hunters are. Fish caught or birds bagged are, for some, the measure of that quality experience. With that in mind, perhaps it should not be surprising that some fishing and hunting regulations seem to be made for public relations reasons as much as for biological ones.