Manitoba is taking direct aim at its foot by imposing new guide requirements for American waterfowl hunters beginning in 2023.
"American'' waterfowl hunters meaning, generally, in this instance, Minnesotans, who represent the largest share of U.S. residents who travel to Manitoba each fall to hunt ducks and geese.
Under the guise of providing better hunting-land access for its own waterfowl hunters — a joke, given the province's vast expanse and its rapidly declining number of resident duck and goose hunters — Manitoba next year will require non-Canadian waterfowlers either to pay a guide to hunt with them or to apply for a limited number of licenses issued by lottery.
Calling the proposal, "Waterfowl hunting modernization in Manitoba,'' the actual intent of the bogus idea is to pad the pockets with American dollars of a relatively small number of Manitoba waterfowl-hunting outfitters.
The irony is twofold:
• American waterfowlers, through millions of dollars of contributions to groups like Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and others, for decades have underwritten virtually all of Canada's waterfowl conservation, much of it occurring in Manitoba.
• Canada, including, specifically, Manitoba, has done virtually nothing — ever — to sustain waterfowling among its own residents as the popular pastime it once was. Now the province claims it needs to ensure that its few remaining duck and goose hunters have places to set their decoys.
The numbers don't lie: In 1978, Manitoba, which is about the size of Texas, fielded some 55,000 (out of a population of about 1 million) resident waterfowl hunters, a number that a few years ago had dwindled to fewer than 10,000 (from a population of 1.4 million).
Meanwhile, foreign — again, meaning American, most of whom are from Minnesota — waterfowlers in Manitoba have stayed relatively constant in number during the same period, at only a few thousand (3,600, to be exact, pre-COVID).
Manitoba justifies its proposal by 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's world-class waterfowling opportunities are sustainable and at numbers tolerable by Manitobans.
Left unsaid is that among the proposal's primary targets are rank and file Manitobans. Many of these are farmers, who for years, and in many cases for generations, have welcomed Minnesota waterfowlers to their homes or guest cabins or unused farmhouses — places where the visiting duck and goose hunters could stay for a reasonable fee to hunt and enjoy good times with their hosts.
Seeing these mom-and-pop outfits as competition, Canadian outfitters want them out of the hospitality business.
They propose doing so by:
• Reducing the total number of waterfowl licenses available to foreigners to 2,900, 1,200 of which will be available to Manitoba licensed outfitters.
• Issuing by lottery 1,300 licenses available to non-Canadians. These licenses will be good only for seven consecutive days.
• Reserving the remaining 400 foreign licenses — this will really fry DIY (do-it-yourself) American wingshooters — "to accommodate and transition non-government organizations that provide hunting opportunities as part of habitat conservation work and individuals that hold historical hunting properties in Manitoba to the new regulatory system. The licenses may also be used to mitigate impacts to outfitters in extenuating circumstances.''
The unintended consequence of the plan: Everyone will lose.
• Small-town Manitoba restaurants and motels owners, and the aforementioned farmers who historically have catered to DIY American waterfowlers, will suffer.
• Some Minnesota waterfowlers, already tired of what is generally regarded by many American sportsmen and women as a callous disdain for them — and their money — by the Canadian government, will simply stop traveling north.
• Seeing little reason to continue doing so, these same Americans will stop contributing to duck and goose habitat conservation in Canada.
Finally, some of the very businesses the plan purports to help — Canadian waterfowl outfitters — will go bust due to a decreasing number of visiting Minnesota waterfowlers.
Minnesota's duck opener last Saturday was good to very good, due largely to the presence virtually statewide of abundant blue-winged teal.
• "Reports generally were fantastic,'' said Department of Natural Resources waterfowl specialist Steve Cordts of Bemidji. Hunting in the Bemidji area last weekend, Cordts saw ringnecks and redheads over his decoys, in addition to teal.
• Twenty hunters checked by the DNR in the Lac qui Parle area had near limits of six ducks apiece.
• Waterfowlers on Mud Goose Wildlife Management Area and other waters near Remer had close to four birds apiece.
• Lake Christina waterfowlers had good teal hunting on the opener. And a few thousand ringnecks were spotted on the storied lake before the season's first day.
• The Roseau area saw one of its best openers in recent years.
• Hunters on Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area had about 2.5 ducks per hunter, mostly teal and wood ducks.
The presence of so many teal surprised Cordts. They are challenging birds to count during spring surveys because they are small and relatively reclusive. That said, they didn't appear to be in Minnesota in significant numbers during the DNR's May aerial counts. Additionally, teal largely evaded banding efforts by the DNR this summer, perhaps, Cordts said, "because there were just not that many of them.''
Yet, for whatever reason — perhaps due to a migration from the Dakotas, perhaps not —bluewings were abundant on opening weekend.
Reports from DNR "spy blinds'' during Minnesota's five-day early teal season, Sept. 3-7, showed good target compliance among participating waterfowlers. Only teal are legal to shoot at, and kill, during the season.
In 2021, during the state's first "experimental'' five-day teal season, 10% of observed hunters shot at non-teal ducks; this year, Cordts said, it was 4%. Also, the killing of non-target ducks was down this year from 2021, 5% to 4%.