In his Sept. 30 Outdoors Weekend column accusing Manitoba of "shooting itself in the foot," Dennis Anderson fired off an emotional response to Manitoba's waterfowling proposal without himself taking careful aim. We are writing to set the record straight and to ask Minnesota waterfowlers for their support of the proposed hunting changes to keep Manitoba a place where you can continue to still truly freelance hunt.
Anderson says, "Manitoba has done virtually nothing — ever — to sustain waterfowling among its own residents." The Manitoba Wildlife Federation (MWF), established in 1944, started Canada's first provincial waterfowling program in 2000 and launched the first women's waterfowl hunting program in Canada during that time. The program has run annually since its inception, peaking at 25 mentored hunts offered each fall.
The MWF's Mentored Hunt program, done in partnership with the province, was a big reason that the long-term decline of Manitoba waterfowlers has stopped in recent years.
Anderson refers to the "few remaining" and "rapidly declining" resident waterfowl hunters as if we are no longer significant. On the contrary, our waterfowl numbers have stopped declining because we have been working so hard to retain and recruit resident hunters. And we are not "few." We are 10,000 strong, fighting for positive hunting legislation on behalf of all hunters who hunt here — including Dennis Anderson.
Canada's federal gun laws are restrictive, and we are under constant attack by forces that would take away ability to hunt. Does anyone really believe that nonresident hunters will be welcomed if there are no resident hunters? Minnesota hunters need us to fight for you to maintain access to the hunting you so enjoy in Manitoba.
Anderson says the proposal is intended to "pad the pockets" of outfitters. Actually, outfitters have been leaders here in collaborating with residents to ensure the land is not all locked up, as it is in most of America. The number of Manitoba waterfowl outfitters will be capped at 60, and a grand total of 1,200 nonresident, non-Canadian licenses (pre-COVID levels) will be allocated to those outfitters. They have supported a freeze on their businesses because the competition for land access has become that hard for them in most areas they operate.
Anderson says Manitoba's proposal is "a joke," partly because of the "vast expanse" of Manitoba, the size of Texas. Yes, we are large geographically, but most of our province is wilderness, vast forests and huge lakes, so most of Manitoba is not great for waterfowl hunting. Saskatchewan and Alberta have by far the largest share of the Canadian Prairie Pothole landscape. Outfitters, U.S. freelancers and Manitoba residents are competing within areas much smaller than Anderson suggests.
The truth is that access for hunting areas has become the biggest remaining issue we face as resident duck hunters. Yes, U.S. hunter numbers have been relatively stable sitting at around 3,600 over the years, but we believe the intensity of the hunting behavior has changed with enhanced technologies and the new practice of paying for access. U.S. hunters harvest the majority of the birds up here, despite making up only a third of the overall hunter numbers.
We are seeing the proliferation of U.S. style "duck clubs" which put down roots, facilitate organized hunting operations that are intensive, and lease land for hunting. We understand this is a necessary approach to have good hunting in much of the U.S. However, that approach and culture is not part of our history. It is rapidly spreading here, and genuinely concerning, as it should be for U.S. hunters too.
In some cases, these operations are unlicensed and illegal outfitting, sometimes it is friends pooling resources to create hunting operations. But it is not freelance hunting available to ordinary Minnesotans, and Manitobans do not want that to take root here.
Ask yourself: Why do you want to come to Manitoba? It is probably because you can hunt without conflict, as a free man or woman, truly freelancing. It is probably because we are friendly and share our resources, we open our fields, marshes and homes to you, and are happy to keep doing that. What we do not want is our precious hunting areas controlled, leased, and occupied to the point, just like all the other places in North America, where you either cram into overcrowded public land, or you buy into the best duck lease you can afford to hunt waterfowl.
This is a reasonable proposal to address a serious and growing problem. It deserves the support of resident and nonresident hunters alike to sustain Manitoba's quality of waterfowling.
Carly Deacon is managing director of the Manitoba Wildlife Federation in Winnipeg.