Bad practices lead to better wildlife management
Seven men lined up for the camera, each with a firearm, each with a steely-eyed gaze that tells us a rifle isn't just a casual accessory. Wondering what's going on? The photo's caption reveals more of the story: "Dewey Brothers, market hunters and crack shots, Fergus Falls, about 1910."
The Dewey Brothers were participants in a practice that meant big business in Minnesota at the end of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. Nominator Doug Lodermeier explains: "Minnesota is known today as a model of smart, progressive, and pragmatic conservation policies. What most Minnesotans are not aware of is the large part that market hunting played in producing our current game-management laws and conservation movements.
"This reckless process of commercially killing and selling animals, particularly ducks, completely changed the way we approach Minnesota's natural resources today--fortunately, for the better. Three lakes in particular--Heron Lake, known as the "Chesapeake of the West," Swan Lake in southern Minnesota, and Lake Christina to the north--once epitomized the wholesale slaughter of our natural resources. At one time, as many as 700,000 canvasback migrated through Heron Lake. Unfortunately, through practices such as baiting, punt guns, and indiscriminate harvesting, market hunting decimated this duck population in the name of fat profits from Twin Cities, Chicago, and East Coast markets."
It wasn't until 1931 that Minnesota had a Department of Conservation (renamed the Department of Natural Resources in 1971). Before then, hunting regulations were handled through a combination of governmental efforts and private initiatives. The earliest example of a private regulatory agreement came in about 1906, when a group of hunters signed the Lake Heron agreement. This act restricted shooting hours, boat traffic, and open-water hunting on the lake. Its intent was to extend opportunities to all hunters throughout the season, and it's still in effect today. The Lake Heron agreement and other such "self-policing" acts are, according to Lodermeier, "some of Minnesota's and the nation's proudest examples of recognizing destructive practices and having the courage and foresight to overcome them."
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