Hunters should be aware that some of them may soon be getting a dove hunting survey in the mail.
The survey is a cooperative effort by the state fish and wildlife agencies, all four flyway councils, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Topics will include time spent hunting, demographics, constraints to hunting, and thoughts about potential effects of spent lead from hunting ammunition on mourning doves and other wildlife. The National Dove Hunter Survey is scheduled to begin in late June 2012 and will be completed by the end of the year.
Hunters’ attitudes about lead ammunition will be particularly important in this survey, since attempts to ban or severely restrict lead ammunition for hunting are far from over. Anyone who supports such bans will pore through the survey looking for anything that could help their position.
In fact, doves are one of the keynote species involved in attempts to ban lead ammunition. Certain states already restrict hunters to non-lead ammunition for doves, under many different sets of laws that may apply, for example, only in certain months, or certain areas or on state land only. Dove hunters may well be allowed to use lead on private land, yet be subject to a fine for possessing one lead shotshell on a state wildlife management area.
Most recently, when Iowa got its first dove season in nearly a century just last year, groups such as the Iowa Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) successfully pressured the state Natural Resources Commission into imposing a lead ammunition ban. Although the ban was postponed for the first dove season, it took pressure from NRA and an Executive Order signed by Gov. Terry Branstad to definitively overturn the ban and ensure hunters’ rights to choose their own type of ammunition.
In criticizing Branstad’s decision, HSUS actually suggested that most hunters in the state advocated the ban, saying in a press release: “After hearing all sides, the Commission, which is a body made up primarily of hunters, unanimously decided that additional toxic lead should not be pumped into Iowa’s environment during the new dove hunting season. Millions of hunters have shifted to non-toxic shot, like steel.”
Besides the fact that HSUS cites no source for its claim about “millions of hunters” switching to non-toxic shot, the ploy of claiming that hunters are on their side in the lead issue is exactly what they and other lead ammunition opponents will want to do with the results of this survey.
Doves are also one of the species commonly cited when the Center for Biological Diversity files its ceaseless petitions and lawsuits in attempts to ban lead shot, or makes the unsubstantiated claim that “up to 20 million birds a year” die from ingesting spent lead shot. Doves are the most commonly hunted game bird in America and their numbers are at an all-time high.
Lead ammunition is used in the vast majority of states and has been for more than a century. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that spent lead shot has any population-level impacts on doves. Bald eagles are another species anti-hunting groups claim are suffering from lead poisoning, yet from 1981 to 2006 the number of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the United States increased 724 percent!
“We are conducting this survey because hunter opinions and preferences are important and should be taken into account whenever possible,” says Dr. Ken Richkus of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Population and Habitat Assessment Branch. “The Service and the states want to make sure we use the best science-based information for the management and conservation of our migratory bird resources.”
“We support any survey that helps keep wildlife management decisions grounded in solid science rather than emotional rhetoric,” said Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources. “But if there was not already an intention to ban lead ammunition in some quarters, one wonders why there would be a need for this survey at all.”