Federal Upland Bird Stamp?

March 5, 2015

So this just came into my mailbox this morning, and I’ve been sort of pondering it.  It’s a plea for action and a link to a survey/petition, asking hunters to support the creation of a Federal Upland Bird Stamp.

Here’s the opening salvo:

American landscapes are forever changing as we face the loss of some of our most iconic game bird species. Grassland birds are among the fastest and most consistently declining bird populations in North America and grassland and prairie habitats are the fastest disappearing habitats in the US.  Last year, the Gunnison sage grouse and Lesser Prairie-chicken were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Sage Grouse, Greater Prairie-chicken, Sooty Grouse, and Northern Bobwhite have experienced a 40% rate of decline in the last 40 years. Scaled Quail and Sharp-tailed Grouse are also showing steep declines with loss of habitat being the primary cause and ultimate solution.

I’m not a hardcore, upland bird hunter.  Even though quail is probably my favorite wild game meat (from a pretty long list), I just don’t spend a ton of time or money to pursue them.  I am happy to see that the work I’ve done on my little place has resulted in an apparently successful covey up on the ridge, although they’re a long ways from being “huntable”.  I just want to wake up on a warm, sunny morning and hear, “bob white!”  That’s a song from my childhood that I dearly miss.

I guess that a lot of folks across the country are missing similar songs these days.  Even though I don’t often seek out articles or columns about upland birds, I can’t help reading about the fact that these birds are struggling in a lot of places.  Bobwhites are definitely taking a beating throughout their range.  I read that native grouse are also struggling in a lot of places.  With habitat loss and constantly changing agricultural practices, as well as ongoing budgetary threats to programs like CRP, it’s easy to understand how this is happening.

The question is, “what do we do about it?”

There are a number of conservation organizations hard at work out there, and most states have implemented upland game stamps or tags.  There are efforts actively  underway to restore and improve habitat, and to study the birds and learn more about why they’re challenged.  But it’s a tall order.  Coming back to Gentleman Bob for an example, despite years of decline, there is still no consistent explanation for why their numbers have been dropping so drastically.  Studies cost money, and wildlife does not recognize man-made boundaries, such as state lines.

In 1934, waterfowl hunters and conservationists recognized that ducks and geese were in serious decline, so they collaborated to introduce the first, Federal Duck Stamp.  Since then, money from the sale of these stamps (combined with Pittman-Robertson funds) has been put to work to restore and maintain waterfowl populations.  As with any story of wildlife management, there are many factors, but it’s hard to argue with the fact that the Duck Stamp has played a significant part in funding the recovery of waterfowl, as well as providing increased opportunities for American sportsmen to pursue these birds.

Is now the time to do the same thing for America’s upland game birds?  And are upland hunters ready and willing to pick up the tab by paying for a Federal stamp?

Honestly, I haven’t made up my mind.  If a stamp were implemented, I would certainly buy it every year, just like I buy my waterfowl stamp.  I probably wouldn’t complain.  But I’m still not sure if I want to join the call for such a thing, especially given my lack of  knowledge and involvement in the topic.

What do you guys think?


11 Responses to “Federal Upland Bird Stamp?”

  1. Federal Upland Bird Stamp? | on March 5th, 2015 14:24

    […] Federal Upland Bird Stamp? […]

  2. Chad Love on March 5th, 2015 14:48

    Well, I hate to toot my own horn here, but this was originally sort of my idea, four years ago…

    I originally brought up the upland stamp idea in a QF blog, but I think the QF blog, or at least the archive, is no more, so the F&S blog will have to do for a link.

    You know as well as I do that literally anyone can petition the gubment for anything, so the cynic in me says this has less to do with actually getting something accomplished and more to do with generating buzz and publicity for someone’s website or organization. I’ve never heard of “Ultimate Upland” in my life before this, so I guess it’s working. However, if the good folks at “Ultimate Upland” succeed in their quest, I’ll be the first in line to buy a stamp and apologize for my cynical assholery.

    As for the feasibility of the idea itself, I think it’s a great, in theory, but have very little hope that in reality it would ever come to fruition. The myriad issues involved in creating a federal stamp for upland birds are profound and thorny.

  3. Phillip on March 5th, 2015 17:08

    Was hoping you’d chime in, Chad, knowing both your penchant for upland and your perspective.

    I always question these online petitions, and seldom join them. Like you, I’d never heard of Ultimate Upland either, and I sort of wonder why there isn’t something here about other organizations joining the push, such as QU, Pheasants Forever, etc. But hey, what I don’t know could fill volumes. I’ll see where it goes.

  4. Tobin on March 5th, 2015 21:41

    Absolutely – with CRP issues we need something.

  5. jack staley on March 6th, 2015 19:57

    100% in favor of this if the funds are used for public access and CRP programs.

  6. Brian on March 16th, 2015 09:13

    Chad – good post from a number of years ago.

    According to the wildlife biologists at the WMI conference last week, this idea has been kicked around for a number of years behind closed doors. Seems as though we’re the ones dragging it into the light.

    We actually presented the idea to the AFWA Resident Game Bird Working Committee and talked through a number of issues and ways to move forward.

    Maybe actually read the article, see that there’s been a lot of thought and research around it. Then checkout the discussions that are happening online, not just on our page and social feeds, but many others including this one. And stay tuned because we’re following up with more articles talking about specifics.

    You’re right about the publicity, just wrong about the motives. The attention is focused on big ideas in upland habitat conservation and ways to have an impact, we could care less about credit.

    We’re leading the discussion online. Feel free to join in.

  7. Christine on March 16th, 2015 09:38

    Chad, I’ve read and shared your F&S blog from years ago about the idea for an upland stamp, although I didn’t see it until recently. I agree with Brian that credit for the idea or publicity for the Ultimate Upland site are not a motive, not for me (and I co-wrote the subject article with Brian). The idea for a Federal Upland Stamp is one that creates a dedicated funding source for upland bird habitat and could potentially incentivize states to prioritize upland projects. Conservation organizations ought to get behind the idea, but perhaps they are unsure of how their memberships would respond? I don’t know. For now, it’s a grassroots effort in line with your idea. No, it won’t be easy, but a chance at restoring wild bird populations is worth it. And sportsmen have come together to initiate wildlife restoration before. It’s why we have abundant game in this country.

  8. John koshoffer on March 16th, 2015 10:08

    No issue with a federal upland stamp for helping CRP! But think a state stamp could help in states like Ohio to bolster the pheasant population.

  9. Rebecca Schwanke on March 16th, 2015 15:06

    As an Alaskan everything hunter and 12 year state wildlife biologist. “Even the noblest of concepts need to be well vetted…”

    Why a federal Upland Stamp is a bad idea – Nationally

    Upland birds are managed by individual states and under this model, such species are researched, managed, and allocated according to the desires of states’ residents. State budgets are determined based on relative scientific need species to species. Most upland bird populations are cyclic in nature, and no amount of additional funding can change this. If individual states have a dire need to address a species, or a group of species such as upland birds, it remains the legal and inherent duty of that state to increase conservation efforts through re-allocation of existing hunting license revenue, creation of a dedicated funding source such as a stamp/tag, dedicated legislative funding, and/or increased involvement from non-profit conservation groups dedicated to that cause.

    Wildlife nationwide faced dire circumstances in the 1930s following the great depression, and establishment of the Pittman-Robertson (PR) excise tax on firearms/ammunition was the best solution at the time to put funds into wildlife conservation. The program works through re-distribution to states based on the amount of matching funds that can be put up annually. Dollars are often left on the table when states cannot come up with enough of a match. Once collected by the federal government, dollars become “federal dollars”, and as such, they come with a very high price to states and us as state residents.

    When Uncle Sam distributes “federal dollars” they come with caveats. First is the load of paperwork and the bureaucracy to even get the funds. This “administration” can cost in excess of 30 to 40 cents per $1 paid in excise tax. Then comes the rules. When in control of necessary funding, a government agency has the explicit opportunity to lay down very specific rules governing 1) who is eligible for the funding, and 2) how and when the funding can be used. The very first rule I expect out of a Federal Upland Stamp will be – No more lead shot for upland bird hunting. If a state does not adopt the rule, they would not be eligible for funding. Take a look at the affordable health care law or any other large-scale federal funding program for comparable examples.

    Secondly, expect a significant redistribution of wealth. Upland bird conservation is funded heavily by some states, and virtually ignored in others (where populations are entirely cyclic and have plenty of habitat). If upland stamp funding follows the PR model, I expect < 10 states to put forth a significant amount of matching funds, and in return they could receive the bulk of the upland funding. A state that puts forth minimal funds (perhaps due to budget constraints or healthy natural upland bird populations) would receive a disproportionately small amount of the upland funding. Meanwhile, each of us upland hunters pay annually.

    Why a STATE Upland Stamp might be a good idea – For Alaska

    Raising funds for conservation is one of the most noble efforts a hunter can make for the future. Increased dollars generally result in improved long-term sustainability of a species and our ability to continue to consumptively use the resource.

    ADF&G currently has a fledgling small game program. We have two bright young biologists dedicated to helping improve small game conservation and education throughout the state. They currently have position funding, though given our state’s looming budget issues, their operating funds will likely dry up in the next few years.

    A state upland bird or small game stamp could go a long way towards growing our small game program into something amazing. A total of 103,153 Alaskans and 15,896 nonresidents purchased Alaskan hunting licenses in 2014. If we had a voluntary small game stamp in our state, I am confident that 10% of these hunters (including some younger hunters) would pay $5 or $10 as a way to “give back”. That’s $60,000-$120,000 we could put directly into the State of Alaska Fish and Game fund. While a small percentage would be utilized for program administration, it’s guaranteed to be less than federal overhead, and the money would stay in Alaska.

    If Alaskans are truly interested in putting more funds towards upland birds in this state, I would suggest that you support a voluntary small game stamp during the next legislative session, following approval of the existing license fee increase effort.

    Not interested in a new stamp or additional government initiated programs? No problem. There are existing conservation groups in Alaska including the Alaska Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society and SCI that are well known for putting a significant amount of funding (and volunteer time) directly into habitat improvements with virtually no overhead cost.

  10. Phillip on March 17th, 2015 13:30

    Wow, I get busy with the day job and look at all the activity I’ve missed.

    First, thanks to everyone for the input and participation. It may take me a bit to soak it in.

    Secondly, thanks for the perspectives. As a very occasional upland bird hunter, I don’t follow much national news or discussion on the topic. I don’t have a strong opinion, or at least not a strong EDUCATED opinion to fall back on here, so I’m basically an interested spectator in the discussion. As I mentioned before, I have conflicting feelings about a Federal upland bird stamp. A lot of that stems from my distrust of the current political process (the same process that upended the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act), and the challenges to getting the funds incontrovertibly earmarked for actual upland bird conservation. A lot of what Rebecca Schwanke wrote here about the PR funds and various states’ abilities to come up with their matching funds also concerns me… a lot.

    But nothing is insurmountable. The idea of the stamp, and the benefits it would provide, is an idea I do, truly like. I’d pay my money.

  11. Phillip on March 23rd, 2015 18:51

    Just a note.
    I’m all about folks feeling free to have their say, but there are a few things I won’t tolerate here. One of them is elementary-school level political bullshit. Seriously. If you don’t like what a politician is doing, then make a factual case, and offer a better idea. But if the best you’ve got is infantile name-calling, then don’t waste my time. I’m not going to edit the offensive line out of your post, I’m just going to delete it.

    That is all.