top of page

Good news and bad news for the 2014 dove hunting season

By JIM MATTHEWS There is good news and bad news on the dove hunting front for the coming 2014 season. First the good news: The Fish and Game Commission adopted the new 15-bird limit for mourning doves for this season. This is the new “standard” dove limit, according to the new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s framework for dove hunting seasons for the Western states. Of this limit, and in counties where whitewing doves may be taken, no more than 10 may be whitewings. If dove populations drop below a certain level, the “restrictive” dove limit (10 birds) would be recommended, but dove populations have been very stable at a high level for the past decade. Best of all, the new, more accurate dove population surveys show hunter harvest has had no impact on total dove numbers. It has been decades since California had a 15-bird dove limit. Does anyone remember the last time? In addition, the Commission approved a year-around, no-limit season for Eurasian collared doves, a non-native species, whose population has exploded in this country. The no-limit, year-around season was tested in Imperial County last year and game wardens reported few problems with the program so it was expanded to statewide this year. Now, the bad news: One of the only positive programs implemented for Southern California hunters by the Department of Fish and Wildlife was bungled this year by the state agency. The Imperial County public land dove fields, a cooperative effort between Desert Wildlife Unlimited and the DFW staff at the Imperial Wildlife Area, are without three of its best fields on the Finney-Ramer Unit for 2014 (the Wheat Field, Game Farm Field, and Field 138 for those of you who know the area or have last year’s map) because DFW Sacramento refused to fund Imperial to prepare these wheat fields. While DWU received its funding, it was not able to prepare all of its fields and the state-owned lands. Everyone is saying the problem will be fixed by next year, but there is no reason for to have happened at all this year. A little background is in order. The vast majority of California hunters live in the southern half of the state. Yet, it’s difficult to find too many programs – other than for doves and waterfowl on state-run areas or other public lands – that benefit sportsmen in this region. The DFW mismanages most its state-owned lands through restricted access or downright closures. It has a few permit-only hunts in areas that should be open to hunters throughout the hunting seasons. We don’t do habitat programs. We don’t have DFW staff building and maintaining desert water sources any longer. We don’t even do annual game surveys. The trickle of dollars from DFW coffers back to this area as opposed to the river of money that flows north is embarrassing. And this year it is even less. So how do a few Sacramento bureaucrats decide to cut off the tiny amount of funding needing for an ongoing program that provides hundreds – no, thousands of hunters – a place to hunt birds? Those three wheat fields and adjoining areas provided excellent dove hunting in both the early and late season, Eurasian dove hunting year-around, and quail hunting during that season. Leon Lessica, the ramrod volunteer behind Desert Wildlife Unlimited which started the dove field program in the Imperial Valley, called those three fields the best ones in the valley. There are a lot of people outraged by this. But it’s just one of so many areas where excellent programs are being strangled by the DFW’s Sacramento bureaucrats. There could be an excellent dove field program at Camp Cady Wildlife Area (east of Barstow on the Mojave River), and there was for a couple of seasons. But then a pump at a well broke, and then an irrigation pivot, and there was no DFW money or staff to fix those things. So now, it is up to volunteers to fund and fix those things. But they have to get DFW approval for each step in the process and that takes longer than it does to do all the volunteer labor. So, now another year will go by without Imperial County-type dove fields at Camp Cady. But that’s just one of many things where the DFW is sitting on its hands. They always blame money and staffing and budget cuts. Yet, the DFW budget has gone up every year since I starting covering the agency in the early 1970s. During that same time frame, the number of hunters statewide has gone from 850,000 to around 250,000 – and those 250,000 of us who still buy licenses pay more than we’ve ever paid to make sure the DFW gets those annual increases. Stupid us, we even lobbied for legislation to create an Upland Bird Hunting stamp (effectively charging ourselves even more money) so we could be sure some funding was reserved just for dove, quail, chukar, and other upland birds. A few years ago, I tried to find out where the Upland Bird Stamp money was being spent. It was a nightmare of delays and then bureaucratic slight-of-hand. In the end, there were two realities. First, existing upland game program were defunded and the “new” money used to backfill at a lower level. But even that would have been OK, if that money made into programs to help upland wildlife. But the reality was simply that more than half of it was being sucked up by bureaucracy in Sacramento, and then more piddled away in the regional office, until so little came back to the field as to be almost insignificant. There is less being spent on upland programs today than before the stamp law was passed. The Finney-Ramer wheat fields for doves were one of the few things down here that money actually funded. Will they be back next year? I wonder. Unfortunately, the DFW staff doesn’t think about what projects would give them – no wildlife and sportsmen – the most long-term bang for the buck. If they did, habitat and water projects would be number one down here. They would contract someone to fix the Camp Cady pump and pivot and hire a farmer to do a couple of hundred acres for native bird forage. They would make both 10-year contracts renewed automatically. The agency would get credit for doing great things for High Desert bird hunters and wildlife watchers who would flock to the area. I have a huge list of projects like this. Best of all: The DFW would hire a pair of three-man crews (two people on each crew would be part-time seasonals that can be had cheaply) to do nothing but repair and built desert water sources to mitigate for all that has been lost to development, drought, and groundwater pumping. But I was flat told by the head of the Upland Stamp program, that water/habitat crews like those who built all the desert guzzlers in the 1950s and 1960s would never happen again. Never. Why? Well, it’s not in the budget. END

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
bottom of page