Restoring Canada’s Waterfowling Culture Delta’s Mentor Program Targets Kids and Adults
Posted on 09/17/2008
Winnipeg, Manitoba—It’s been said that statistics can be made to prove anything—even the truth.
In the case of Canadian waterfowl hunter numbers, statistics tell an alarming, fact-based story, the repercussions of which could be devastating to the future of waterfowl conservation and hunting in Canada. Delta Waterfowl and other groups are responding by creating waterfowl hunting opportunities for new hunters.
Click to play movie from the September 14th Women's Hunt
Consider: Since the 1970s, waterfowl hunter numbers have dropped precipitously across Canada, particularly in Western Canada. Hunter numbers peaked in 1978 when more than 505,000 waterfowl permits were sold nationwide; in 2005, according to the Canadian Wildlife Service, that number had fallen to a paltry 134,910.
“Because hunters are leaders in the conservation of wildlife habitat, the decline in participation of waterfowl hunters is a crisis for wildlife conservation in Canada,” said Delta Waterfowl President Rob Olson. “When you lose that many hunters, you lose your political voice, and when you lose your political voice, your influence on conservation and hunting issues is greatly diminished. We’ve learned that the hard way the last couple of years, but we’re actively trying to reverse the trend by bringing more hunters—youth and adults, men and women, girls and boys—into our ranks.”
Indeed, as the hunting season begins in earnest across Canada, Delta Waterfowl and myriad partners are working to increase hunting participation and restore Canada’s storied waterfowling culture. Olson says Delta’s mentored waterfowl hunting program, which began in 2000 (in partnership with the Manitoba Wildlife Federation and the Manitoba provincial government) with a single youth hunt despite vocal opposition from anti-gun activists, is growing across Canada and breaking new ground in recruiting new hunters.
For example, Delta Waterfowl and its provincial partners in Manitoba held its inaugural women’s hunt at historic Delta Marsh in 2007. The two-day event, which was Canada’s first-ever women’s duck hunt event, introduced 20 women to the world of waterfowling. The second annual Manitoba women’s hunt was held this past weekend at Delta Marsh. In partnership with a number of organizations, new women’s hunts are planned for later this month in Alberta, and in southern Ontario.
In addition, and throughout the fall, Delta and its hundreds of volunteers and partner organizations are providing nearly 40 mentored hunting opportunities across Canada, including 17 in Manitoba alone. Although most are youth hunts, Olson says some will focus on university students and other adults. Olson says the mentored events feature firearms instruction, waterfowling skills training, conservation and nature-appreciation education, game preparation, and more.
“We’re developing safe, ethical and well-rounded waterfowl hunters and conservationists, who understand that we have a responsibility as hunters to make sure that waterfowl and their habitats are conserved forever for future generations to enjoy,” Olson says. “We are lucky to be living in a country where our individual lifestyle choices are respected but we have to make sure that we are putting back more birds than we take each fall.”
Delta’s Director of Hunter Recruitment Programs Cam Meuckon says a huge focus of the program is connecting participants “from our increasingly urbanized society with the reality of where their food comes from.”
“It’s a powerful thing to witness: The kid who bagged a duck earlier that morning preparing it for dinner that evening,” Meuckon says. “In doing so, that kid is forever connected to the natural world around them in a way that cannot be replicated by going to the grocery store.”
Added Meuckon: “In the end, these individuals are far more likely to understand the need to conserve our natural resources, including ducks, for future generations.”
Despite the precipitous loss of waterfowl hunters over the years, Olson says he’s bullish about the future and that he believes waterfowling can be saved in mainstream Canadian society. He notes that hunting participation has increased, however modestly, for the first time in more than 30 years. He says that 146,566 people purchased a federal duck stamp in 2007, up from 141,652 in 2006 and 134,910 in 2005.
“The numbers are encouraging, but there’s still a ton of work that needs to be done,” Olson says, adding that the future of waterfowl conservation is inextricably linked to increasing hunter participation across Canada. “We started with 13 kids in 2000 and no one, I don’t think, could have predicted how fast this mentored waterfowling hunting program has grown in such a short period of time. The more time I spend with new hunters, the more confident I am we’re starting to create a renaissance for waterfowl hunting across Canada. Provincial wildlife federations, provincial governments and many non-governmental groups are getting excited and engaged in the push to recruit new hunters, which is good because there are currently more new people who want to get out hunting than we can currently handle.”