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Regulating Duck Art is Honking Silly

Froma Harrop on

I will not lie. I want lots of space placed between a beautiful duck gliding on the marshes and the duck a l'orange carefully arranged on my plate. And I'll never forget the jarring sight of a hawk plucking a baby duck from the water. Its pathetic little quacks still haunt my ears.

As you may guess, hunting is not my thing. But as a meat eater, I cannot get on any high horse about those who shoot animals for sport or food or both. Ducks in the wild eat fish and frogs. Guess the duck and I are all locked onto the same food chain, whereby one creature depends on the next as a source of nourishment.

And that leads us to an interesting little controversy over, of all things, a government regulation on duck art.

Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service runs a competition for a portrait of a swimming bird to appear on the federal duck stamp. Sportsmen pay $25 for the stamp, which gives them the right to hunt for waterfowl on America's wildlife refuges. The service uses the proceeds to help manage these essential habitats.

The controversy centers on a Trump administration rule that the winning piece of art include some depiction of hunting. Supporters assert that the hunting imagery would showcase the reality that hunters contribute mightily to the cost of refuge preservation.

A counterargument is that bird-watchers, conservationists and others not necessarily into hunting also buy these stamps because of the wonderful artwork. Putting high-powered hunting gear onto the duck stamp would discourage purchases by nonhunters, eating into the funds available to nurture the wildlife that both groups value. Besides, the stamp's official name written across the top is the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, so its tie to hunting is not exactly hidden.

This year's duck stamp shows a duck call floating among some reeds. A duck call is a device that hunters blow on to mimic the sound of a quacking duck, thereby attracting the real bird. Nowadays, duck calls are often marketed like military-grade weaponry, with names like Commander Triple Threat Duck Call.

Frankly, I had no idea that the vintage wooden tube quietly placed in a lower left corner of the latest duck stamp was a duck call until I read about it. And why can't a duck call also serve the needs of bird-watchers?

Both sides make valid points in this small-stakes fight, but there really shouldn't be two sides.

 

It's true that hunters and anglers have paid for habitat restoration dating back to the Great Depression, when economic misery prompted a plundering of America's wildlife population. The duck stamp was created in 1934.

The Pittman-Robertson Act, signed three years later, imposes a tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. Most of the $7 billion raised so far has gone to state wildlife agencies for conservation and hunter education. Mississippi, for example, has collected over $116 million from Pittman-Robertson, now known as Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration. And, as other states do, Mississippi also sells licenses to hunt.

Interestingly, some hunters have complained that the duck call featured on the most recent duck stamp portrays a kind of littering. Imagine the reaction if it were a shell casing.

Bird-migration expert and hunter Scott Weidensaul of New Hampshire wants to ditch the required reference to hunting. "Birds are in crisis, and they need every friend they can get today," he told The Wall Street Journal. "We should be making (the contest) as inclusive as possible."

We can kill this unnecessary regulation and irritating addition to the culture wars with one shot. Let's do it.

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Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

 

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