The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has addressed the growing popularity of releasing captive-reared waterfowl on private lands. At their monthly meeting last week, the commission approved an emergency moratorium on any new permits that allow the release of these birds.
The AGFC has recently been made aware of certain landowners in the state who want to release large numbers of captive-reared mallards on private land. In some cases it's been reported that these numbers could range from 3,000 to 5,000 mallards at one time. An existing Commission regulation prohibits "the release into the wild of any native or non-native species of wildlife without prior approval of the commission," except under very limited circumstances.
Wildlife management division chief Donny Harris told the commission that there were several concerns associated with this practice. "The private releasing of large numbers of captive-reared mallards or other free-flighted waterfowl could greatly increase the likelihood of these birds intermingling with wild populations of ducks migrating to Arkansas, which is commonly regarded as having some of the most important wintering grounds for migratory waterfowl in all of the United States," Harris said.
Harris went on to say that there is evidence of the potential for increased risks of disease transmission. "There's also the possibility of genetic mixing and hybridization," he said. "It's also a potential violation of regulatory statutes stemming from these activities. This could be construed as hunting over bait or using live decoys," Harris added.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has studied the problem. In their report, the USFWS concluded, "The threat of disease transmission remains the primary concern among nearly all state wildlife agencies, and there is circumstantial evidence of possible association between the releases of captive-reared mallards and duck-plague outbreaks. These outbreaks appear to occur most frequently in areas where the largest numbers of captive-reared mallards are being released. Also, there is evidence of duck-plague vaccine virus spreading from captive-reared mallards to migratory waterfowl in Maryland."
The report went on to state, "There is also the potential for increased risk of violations of federal waterfowl hunting regulations involving live decoys, baiting, over-bagging, and take of wild ducks out of season. The inability to distinguish between captive-reared and wild mallards while in flight and the potential for problems caused by these birds intermixing, both on and off shooting preserves, are at the heart of law-enforcement issues regarding releases of free-flighted, captive-reared mallards on shooting preserves. If a hunter happens to take a wild duck on a shooting preserve, all hunting prohibitions will apply to that take."
The moratorium begins immediately on the permitting of commercial game bird shooting resorts engaged in the release and harvesting of captive-reared mallards and other waterfowl and is in effect until further notice. Permits that have already been approved or already have been received by the AGFC are not affected by the freeze.