Reducing Mallard Releases
Report to Commissioners

May 15, 2002


Background 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, at its March 2001 meeting, revised   Rule 68A-12.010, F.A.C. to eliminate the provision for licensed hunting preserves to release mallards or black ducks for shooting purposes.  Under the new rule, preserves that recently have participated in this activity may continue to release mallards until June 30, 2008.  The purpose of this rule change was to eliminate one source of feral mallards and thereby reduce the potential for hybridization between released mallards and Florida mottled ducks.  At the March 2001 meeting, Commissioners also directed staff to report in one year on our plans, strategies, and accomplishments for reducing the release of mallards from sources other than licensed hunting preserves. 

Florida citizens are releasing mallards in large numbers.  Released mallards inter-mix with wild mottled ducks, and the two closely related species interbreed.  Staff biologists have observed mixed pairs and the resulting hybrids, which are reproductively fertile.  Every mallard released in Florida potentially can contribute to the hybridization problem.  Because of the relatively small size of the Florida mottled duck population (estimated breeding population of 30,000 to 40,000), complete hybridization of the population is a serious concern.  If we fail to reduce the number of mallards being released and the resulting hybridizations, extinction of Florida’s mottled duck is a distinct possibility. 

Although Rule 68A-4.005, F.A.C. makes it illegal to release mallards (or other captive-reared waterfowl) because of their potential to transmit disease to wildlife, mallards are still being released, likely by citizens who are unaware of the rule and the detrimental consequences to wild mottled ducks.  Therefore, we believe that education and public relations are key to addressing this problem.  

Plans, Strategies, and Accomplishments 

We have developed a draft plan for addressing the hybridization problem. The plan has three objectives:  (1) develop techniques to identify hybrids, (2) assess the proportion and distribution of hybrids in the mottled duck population, and (3) identify and implement mechanisms to reduce hybridization.  Our strategies and accomplishments relative to the third objective are summarized below. 

Our first strategy is to learn more about potential suppliers and sources of captive-reared mallards in order to assess the threat of hybridization caused by the release of these birds and facilitate identification of solutions to the problem.  We contracted with Florida State University to conduct a telephone survey to find out primarily what proportion of feed-and seed stores sell mallards and in what quantities.  To do this, we attempted to contact 2,274 feed-and-seed stores that are subject to inspection by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  This list included only the feed-and-seed stores that either manufacture or repackage feed or sell regulated chemicals (e.g., pesticides, pool chemicals), and thus may not have included all feed-and-seed stores in Florida.  Of 1,099 feed-and-seed stores that responded to the survey, 73 (6.7%) sold ducks, 85% of which sold mallards.  The mean number of mallards sold per year per store was 78.  When asked, “What do you think the majority of your customers do with the ducks?” 96% responded that ducks were kept as pets or  put on ponds/lakes.  We were interested in sources of these ducks and how they were transported to the stores.  Nearly all of the stores received ducks through U.S. mail (96%) and from out-of-state sources (89%).  If we applied these percentages to all 1,137 businesses on the list that were available for contact (i.e., for which phone numbers were available) and assumed that all mallards bought either for pets or to put on ponds/lakes ultimately were released, this would result in an estimated 4,849 mallards released each year from these stores.  An accurate estimate of mallards purchased from feed-and-seed stores would still underestimate the number of mallards potentially released in Florida, because other sources are available (e.g., Internet and telephone sales from breeders shipped directly to customers).  Further efforts would be needed to identify the magnitude of the problem, but the lack of quantifiable sources of information would compromise the potential for success of such efforts. 

The second strategy is to facilitate the direct control of mallard populations.  We have requested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) relax its regulatory protection of mallards in Florida.  Because feral mallards are the same species as wild mallards, they technically enjoy the same federal regulatory protection.  We have been trying to convince the Service over the past eight years to declare mallards present in Florida during the summer months as feral and therefore, unprotected.  The best we have been able to accomplish on this front is that the Service is considering issuing a depredation permit to our agency to allow the take of these birds.  Under this permit, we would have substantial latitude to designate subpermitees.  The Service has drafted an Environmental Assessment of this plan, with input from FWC biologists, and a federal register will be issued soliciting public comment.  If this process is successful and we do receive a depredation permit, we will develop implementation strategies.  We would envision any efforts to remove mallards under this permit to be targeted and limited until public acceptance of broader scale removal could be assured.  

The third strategy is to review and assess other possible regulatory mechanisms for addressing this problem.  We have discussed this at length and have no proposals at this time.  We believe that learning more about the commercial sources of mallards and the associated economics (as addressed by the first strategy) is necessary to fully identify and evaluate potential alternatives.  Furthermore, substantial progress on the education/public relations’ front (the fourth strategy) also is viewed as a prerequisite. 

The fourth strategy, which we believe is of utmost importance, is to develop and implement an education/public-relations program.  Our Office of Informational Services has developed a plan, “Integrated Communications Plan for Reducing Hybridization Between Florida Ducks and Feral Mallards”.  The plan focuses on maximizing awareness of the issue and effectiveness of the message and is based on the assumption that available funding will be limited.  Plan strategies are to (1) reduce the sale and subsequent release of mallards, (2) gain wider acceptance for reduction of the mallard population, and (3) create an awareness of the problem among identified stakeholders.  To date, we have developed and distributed several informational products (including a brochure on our web site), made four presentations and 23 contacts to groups and organizations, and coordinated media coverage resulting in at least 16 unpaid news items.

We will continue to implement these plans and work toward accomplishing the tasks identified in them, as resources allow.  During fiscal year 2002-03, we plan to obtain a genetic technique to distinguish hybrids; develop plans for sampling the mottled duck population to determine the extent of hybridization; further investigate sources of mallards and means of importation; acquire the federal permit for mallard control; finalize, print, and distribute fliers, posters, newsletters, and table-top displays; prepare a display for the state fair; add informational materials to the web site; continue to coordinate media coverage; make plans to integrate the message into FWC educational programs; and provide information to identified stakeholders to enlist their support and cooperation.

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hybridization Commission report.doc