WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's effort to delay tougher federal regulation of the hunting of mallards reared in captivity -- a sport that draws lobbyists and members of Congress to Maryland's Eastern Shore -- has been derailed by her colleagues.
When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans in June to review regulation of duck shooting, hunters and their Capitol Hill allies saw a move toward more stringent control of a practice now subject to minimal federal regulation.
Ms. Mikulski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, responded by having inserted into a budget report language ordering the Fish and Wildlife Service to "terminate" all work on new regulations until a study of pen-raised ducks was completed next year.
The Maryland Democrat, noting that 115 full-time jobs in Dorchester County and thousands of acres of new wildlife habitat have been created by the practice, said it made sense to delay new regulations until the study was completed.
The Fund for Animals Inc. and state game officials from around the country mounted a lobbying campaign that persuaded House and Senate negotiators to remove Ms. Mikulski's language from the final version of the Interior Department budget bill that was completed last week and now awaits ratification by both houses of Congress.
Saying that it would like a ban on "inhumane and unsporting" shooting of birds raised in captivity, the Fund for Animals argued that the practice should be tightly regulated because of the danger that the birds raised in captivity might spread disease to wild ducks and because of the danger of hybridization of captive birds with wild ducks.
It argued that the study of the mallards is irrelevant because it doesn't deal with disease.
Ms. Mikulski's proposal was replaced with language that encourages the Fish and Wildlife Service to proceed with its review of regulations and to consider all data on the issue, including the study of mallards raised in captivity, their migratory habits and survival after release into the wild.
The conferees also told federal officials to give their findings to the House and Senate appropriations committees "before considering any changes in regulations."
Saying that unlike animal rights activists, she is not opposed to hunting, "a part of Maryland history and part of Maryland's economy," Ms. Mikulski welcomed the "compromise" language.
"It provides a variety of safeguards to the process," she said, while allowing the Fish and Wildlife Service to look into the disease threat.
Wayne Pacelle, national director of the Fund for Animals, said he was pleased with the removal of Ms. Mikulski's proposal but criticized the requirement that the Fish and Wildlife Service give Congress the results of its work.
"This is drawing the captive mallard issue deep into the bowels of Congress, where many members recreate by shooting" these birds, he said.
With the population of wild ducks declining, the practice of releasing mallards raised in captivity on private hunting preserves has grown in the last decade.
In Dorchester County, where the practice is considered most concentrated, an estimated 1.4 million of the ducks have been released on 70 private hunting preserves, where there are no daily bag limits, since 1982.
The owners and operators of these hunting preserves, which are not open to the public, include a number of prominent Washington lobbyists who use them for entertaining clients and members of Congress.