Monday’s post on what to look for in a preserve dog raises an interesting – if troubling – question: what if preserve hunting is the future for all of us? For those of you still fortunate enough to have huntable wild bird populations, ask yourself this: if those birds continued their decline to the point of no return, would you still have the passion for hunting with dogs even if you had to do it in a preserve environment?
I wish it were just one of those unlikely “what-if” hypothetical questions, but things aren’t looking good for many of our native gamebird populations. Here’s a fairly startling graph on the long-term range-wide decline of the bobwhite quail (bob graphline is in blue, grasshopper sparrow in red) courtesy of the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. The bobwhite has also made Audubon’s list of the top twenty common birds in decline (and for you waterfowlers, bluebills and pintails also made that list). Gambel’s quail are in a serious decline in Arizona, the lesser prairie chicken, once the most populous upland gamebird species on the southern plains, will almost certainly be listed under the ESA within a year or two, the sage grouse are in trouble in many parts of its range, and pheasant populations face the potential loss of millions of CRP acres.
Taken as a whole, you could certainly envision a grim long-term prognosis for the future of running our dogs on wild birds in wild places. Hopefully it will never come to that. Hopefully we can find some way to come to an agreement. Hopefully, we’ll always thrill to the sight of a staunch point, a long retrieve and our dogs with a mouthful of feathers from a bird never touched by the hand of man. But if things don’t work out, will you still enjoy watching your dog work on preserve land?