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Wiltz: How much protection do bald eagles need?

Something I read, and something I saw on television, really touched me this past week. "Two Degrees Centigrade," the global warming program on the History Channel, led to my losing some sleep the night I watched it. According to the program, we are doomed unless our technology solves the problem of warmer surface waters on our gulfs and oceans. My grandchildren could live to see the collapse. I'm not a doom and gloom guy, and I believe we'll solve the problem, although it will get worse before it gets better.

I recently read an article by Tripp native Ron Spomer. His article, "It Could Go Eider Way," appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Sporting Classics magazine. Relative to Spomer's story, my personal bucket list includes a coastal sea duck or eider hunt. We have East Coast nephews, and I believe they hunt sea ducks. In the past I have considered dropping a hint.

Wildlife management, and especially predator management, is a complex subject. For coyotes, foxes, and raccoons, it's no holds barred, no closed seasons as they eat baby pheasants.....big ones too. Hawks and owls eat pheasants too, but their status is "no touchy." Are raptors good guys and coyotes bad guys? Pretty complicated. Of all the predator maligned species we have on the North American continent, none have it worse than the common east coast eider in my opinion. Allow me to give you some eider background.

The eider is the largest duck of the northern hemisphere and can weigh six pounds. Eiders feed mainly on clams and mussels, and they can dive down to 65 feet to get them! These black and white ducks are amazing!

The length of the Maine coast is a maze of islands. I've been there. In fact, I fished there for stripers with Don, my brother-in-law, a few years ago. Before we white settlers came along, staggering numbers of eiders nested on Maine's predator-free coastal islands. By the late 1800's, farming, market hunting and spring egg collecting took their toll. Maine was reduced to two pair of nesting eiders!

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 ended market hunting, and seasonal hunting was closed for 18 years. At this same time, there was a human exodus from the islands as the fishing industry collapsed. The mainland now had electricity, and the islands were all but abandoned and left to the eiders. Spomer mentions that recolonizing by migrant Canada ducks helped. By 1934, eider numbers increased to the point that fall hunting was reopened. Happy days were here again!

Since those times the wheels have come off, leaving the current East Coast eider situation a total disaster. Hunting pressure is not the problem. If it were, the problem could be easily remedied by controlling the hunting. The problem is predators.

Spomer's article introduces us to Brad Allen, the nation's foremost expert on the common eider. According to Allen, duckling survival, or the lack of it, is the problem. It is inferred that man-made changes have introduced an unnatural population of predators. Predators are eating the ducklings—all of them. Bald eagles pluck the ducklings from the water. Minks and river otters have colonized on the islands, and they have learned to target nests. Worst of all is the black-backed gull. This egg-eating, duckling eating machine has accounted for 90 percent of the eider hatch.

As mentioned, man is at the bottom of this mess. Depleted forage fish have forced dietary adaptations. Garbage dumps may have lured the gulls down from their traditional breeding areas. Politically, society's notion that nature should not be managed but left alone prevents culling operations.

I have no solutions to the eider problem presented by Spomer. It needs funding, but funding comes from hunters, and hunter numbers are dwindling. I don't know to what extent Ducks Unlimited can go. Minks and otters can be trapped, and a liberalized trapping season set, but does Maine have the skilled outdoorsmen/women? Dumps and landfills can be reengineered, but that takes money. I'll not go so far as to suggest shooting gulls and eagles.

I have not mentioned our Pacific Flyway eiders today. As far as I know, our Alaskan eider population is far healthier than its east coast relatives. Not too long ago, large numbers of black and white ducks could be seen during the winter on the open water near the Fort Randall Dam intakes at Pickstown. I was told that these ducks were eiders. If so, had they crossed over from the Pacific Flyway? I'm hoping that U.S. Fish & Wildlife people can answer this question.

For our own duck hunting, the Low Plains Middle season is now open. The Low Plains South zone opens October 14th. Study the maps, dates, species, and numbers, as I don't want to misinterpret and get you in trouble.

See you next week.

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