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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.