Within a month or so, Manitoba will announce that most Minnesota and other non-Canadian waterfowlers who wish to hunt in that province without a registered Manitoba guide must apply to a lottery for a duck or goose hunting license.
Those who are awarded licenses will be limited to seven days of hunting. The number of licenses available in the lottery isn't known, though reports last fall said 1,300 would be awarded to non-Canadian, non-outfitted waterfowlers.
The program is expected to begin this fall.
Meanwhile, 1,200 non-Canadian licenses would be reserved for 60 Manitoba outfitters. Additionally, Americans who own property in Manitoba — it's unclear whether "property'' means any property or simply "duck camps'' — will get one "legacy'' license for themselves and four licenses for their buddies.
The legacy licenses will be good for 21 days.
The plan, which in some form or fashion Saskatchewan is also exploring, is considered a slap in the face to American hunters, most of whom are Minnesotans, who for nearly a century have sent billions of dollars to Canada for wetland conservation. American hunters, in fact, are the major financiers of habitat preservation in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada's primary waterfowl-producing provinces.
The Manitoba licensing program will be implemented despite the protests of American conservation groups, particularly Ducks Unlimited (DU), which in October sent a stern letter to provincial authorities opposing the idea.
"Since 1986, over $2.7 billion [Canadian] has been invested in wetland conservation in Canada under the auspices of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan. This averages approximately $77 million in funding to Canada each year,'' DU Chief Executive Officer Adam Putnam wrote to Greg Nesbitt, Manitoba minister of natural resources and northern development. "This investment has resulted in over 27 million acres of wetlands and associated uplands habitat being conserved in Canada."
DU also rejected a Manitoba proposal that would have reserved 200 non-Canadian waterfowl licenses for it and 200 for Delta Waterfowl so the groups could bring donors to Manitoba to hunt. Delta rebuffed that idea as well.
In concert with the Manitoba Wildlife Federation and the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association, Manitoba officials justify the non-Canadian waterfowl-hunting plan, saying it:
• Prioritizes resident hunting opportunities and access to the resource.
• Prioritizes existing licensed outfitting businesses "such that their services are highly sought after by clientele from across Canada, the U.S. and the world.''
• Ensures that non-outfitted, foreign residents accessing Manitoba waterfowling opportunities are sustainable and at numbers tolerable by Manitobans.
The explanations are largely considered obfuscations, if not fabrications, by American waterfowlers, who point out that waterfowl hunting among Manitobans has been declining for decades.
In 1978, about 55,000 provincial residents hunted ducks and geese, and now fewer than 10,000 do. The idea that further reducing the relative handful (about 3,600) of American waterfowlers who visit the province in fall will increase Manitoba duck- and goose-hunter numbers is simply not believable, U.S. hunters say.
Instead, the move is largely viewed in the U.S. as an attempt to benefit Manitoba guides by privatizing a public resource managed and governed by international treaties.
The plan is particularly grating to American waterfowlers because do-it-yourself duck and goose hunting is more affordable than guided hunting, and because planning one's own hunt and executing it successfully or even unsuccessfully can be important to achieving an outing's memorable outcome.
Since I wrote about the Manitoba proposal last September, which until then had been largely kept quiet outside the province, many discussions have occurred between Manitoba and U.S. waterfowlers and various groups.
This includes Delta Waterfowl, headquartered in Bismarck, N.D., where John Devney, a Minnesota native, is chief policy officer. Devney has been an adviser on the licensing issue with Manitoba officials the last five months.
Devney's belief is that Manitoba is going to launch the restrictions regardless of Americans' opinions, and his goal is to "get the best deal I can for U.S. waterfowlers.''
He acknowledges Delta's position is viewed skeptically by some because Delta's former president, Rob Olson, also is a former director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation and is now Manitoba Deputy Minister of Wildlife.
"I'm doing my very best to see that American hunters get a fair shake,'' Devney said. "We didn't support the original proposal. We are trying to improve it.''
Based on the historical number of U.S. waterfowlers hunting in Manitoba, Devney said the percentage of DIY applicants who would receive licenses by lottery under the original proposal was 65%.
"I don't know what the final percentage will be, because they haven't decided, but it will be significantly better than that,'' he said.
Its fine print notwithstanding, Manitoba's licensing idea is simply wrong, said John Cooper of Pierre, S.D., a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent who later headed the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks Department for 12 years.
"The North American model of wildlife management, which hunters have funded generously for almost a century, has said from the beginning that if you buy a license, you've got a stake in the game and you should have a say in the rules,'' Cooper said. "Manitoba claims American hunters are crowding out their guides or hunters, but they've offered no research to demonstrate this, and they've offered no opportunity for Americans' input.''
Cooper noted that Minnesota, like many other states, sends money to Canada for waterfowl conservation from the sale of duck stamps, adding:
"When you award outfitters a guaranteed number of licenses, while limiting U.S. waterfowlers who win lottery permits to only seven days of hunting, you're incentivizing the outfitters to lease up more and more land, thus making it even harder for the blue-collar hunter to find a place to hunt.''