Searching For A Solution

A young duckling emerges from the shallow, cool waters of his birth lake and creeps warily through the tall, damp cattails. The sun’s rays begin to dry the previous night’s dew. He shakes the last droplets of lake water onto the ground while following his mother on their morning trek.

Feeding the ducks at your local park isn’t all it’s quacked up to be. Photo courtesy of Mark A. Patterson

Within moments, he leaves the confines of the water and surrounding vegetation to enter a landscape of freshly mowed grasses and manicured beds. The duckling’s instincts tug at him as if to call him back towards the safety of the lake, but his mother beckons him to push forward with his 10 brothers and sisters.

His entry to this foreign world is greeted with the calls and shrieks of other waterfowl that follow the same ritual each day. The duckling’s pace quickens as he and his fellow birds rush towards the source that drew them here to begin with.

Upon their arrival at this destination, the ducks and geese are greeted with tufts of day-old bread cast out from a creature their instincts warn them not to trust.

Sadly, the result of ignoring their predispositions initiates a transformation from an independent migratory animal to a lifetime resident whose value to the ecological balance is diminished further as each season passes.

This same story plays out daily at lakes, ponds, and rivers across the country. Each year, more birds are affected by well-intentioned park patrons who bring their children, grandchildren, and bread to parks.

At some time, most of us have delighted in feeding ducks at a local pond. This act allows many of us to feel a closer connection to the animal world, while others believe they are supplementing the food needs of the ducks and geese.

After all, no one wants to see an animal starve—or worse die–because there is not enough food. Our own nurturing instincts often overshadow nature’s intended plan for waterfowl populations.

Animal populations are designed to rise and fall with the availability of food, water, and shelter. This process is what keeps populations in check, and allows for species to adapt to changes. The death of animal young is just one way the population is stabilized.

When we intervene and provide additional support to an already vibrant population, we begin to erode those checks and create false carrying capacities. This damage only begins what will be further issues within that population and are then often transferred to human issues as well.

Get The Ball Rolling

In 2010, Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation (GCPR) began an effort to reverse the above issues it had seen occur across its 22 bodies of water. This process eventually became the department’s Comprehensive Waterfowl Management Plan (CWMP).

Developed by staff members with the assistance and endorsement of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources-Wildlife Resources Division and the Gwinnett County Board of Health, the plan was to create a sustainable ecological balance and simultaneously meet the needs of park-system users.

To accomplish this task, staff members set out to compile data and scientific findings to back up the goals and proposed outcomes of this plan. From the start, staff maintained that this plan would be science-based and not fall prey to anecdotal evidence and pervading myths.

Gwinnett County’s CWMP was established with a list of five objectives:

1. To manage the waterfowl in the parks system with efforts towards increasing the biodiversity of flora and fauna species associated with wetlands, ponds, streams, and lakes.

2. To reduce the number of non-native and introduced flora and fauna species found currently within the park systems’ lakes, rivers, and impoundments.

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