Thanksgiving morning, just at sunrise, is when people who live on the edges of the Chesapeake are loudly reminded that they live in the middle of a thriving seasonal harvest: waterfowling. Shotgun blasts shatter the dawn silence, sounding for all the world like the opening salvos of a Gettysburg re-enactment. Swiftly following is the roar of thousands of startled geese or ducks taking wing. Left behind on the water are the wounded birds, some still struggling against the inevitable arrival of the retriever.
For some folks who have pleasurably watched the Bay’s fall aerial tide of geese, this is more than a surprise—it’s an outrage. Surely, this noisy, visible, gruesome killing—done for pleasure—must be violating some sort of law? Or at the very least, certainly it violates our environmental ethics in an estuary already imperiled by man’s presence?
In fact, this prominent reaping of waterfowl is not a violation of the environment at all. Despite all appearances to the contrary, these hunters, the licenses they buy for the privilege of harvesting waterfowl, and the preservation organizations they support, represent arguably one of the best-managed, best-funded and oldest conservation programs in North America.
That wasn’t always the case.