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USFWS Proposes Migratory Bird Hunting Frameworks

Article By 
Ron Wilson

Duck season in western North Dakota’s high plains unit officially ended earlier this month, yet the proposed federal frameworks for the coming season have already been announced.

This is a new way of doing business as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has changed the way waterfowl hunting seasons are decided.

Starting with the 2016-17 hunting seasons, according to the USFWS announcement, the previous two-cycle regulatory practice is now compressed into a single, annual process.

Federal officials said the biological data from the past year is now used to set hunting season dates and to project appropriate harvest limits for each game species.

Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish Department migratory game bird management supervisor, said the streamlined process to set migratory game bird hunting seasons and bag limits provides more time for public comment on proposed rules, and gives biologists more time to analyze population and harvest data.

“We will still need to collect information like we’ve always done,” Szymanski said. It’s just that surveys will be used to set regulations for future situations, a year in advance. It is worth noting, though, that if major red flags are shown in the data, current year information could be used to make emergency changes to regulations.

According to the proposed framework, 2016-17 waterfowl hunting seasons in North Dakota will mirror those of 2015, including season length and bag limits. While season dates won’t be finalized until April, those dates will be set well ahead of past years when dates became official in early September.

“For the agency, this new process allows us to have the waterfowl regulations set much earlier, which will allow hunters to make hunting plans much earlier than before,” Szymanski said.

Szymanski said waterfowl officials are able to streamline the previous two-cycle regulatory process because they have a half-century of data to reference when setting the season frameworks.

“We have many, many years of data and experience in tracking waterfowl populations and knowing what is going to happen,” he said.

The Game and Fish Department, for instance, has conducted its breeding duck survey for nearly 70 years. The survey may be the longest-running breeding waterfowl survey in the world, covering 2,000 miles to assess spring wetland conditions and the number of waterfowl in the state.

Szymanski said determining the season frameworks well in advance won’t be detrimental to the resource as hunting doesn’t have that great of an influence on waterfowl populations.

“It could get difficult if waterfowl populations drop down to those experienced in the later 1980s and early 1990s when we had such extreme drought,” he said.

Waterfowl populations today are described by biologists as steady or improving.

Old Process

  • February 2014 – Determine fall 2013 mourning dove population size.
  • March 2014 – Flyways recommend 2014 dove regulations.
  • May 2014 – Determine 2014 waterfowl breeding status.
  • June (late) 2014 – USFWS finalizes 2014 dove regulations.
  • July (early) 2014 – States finalize 2014 dove regulations.
  • July (late) – Analyze 2013 waterfowl harvest data; flyways recommend 2014 waterfowl regulations.
  • July (very late) 2014 – USFWS finalizes 2014 waterfowl regulations.
  • August (late) 2014 – States finalize 2014 waterfowl regulations.
  • September 2014 – 2014 dove seasons open.
  • September 2014 – 2014 waterfowl seasons open.

New Process

  • April 2016 – Determine fall 2015 mourning dove population size.
  • May 2016 – Determine 2016 waterfowl breeding status. (In late 2015, the USFWS moved into the new regulation setting process. Flyways met with the USFWS last October to make 2016 season recommendations and Game and Fish will be finalizing 2016 dove and waterfowl regulation selections in April 2016.)
  • June (late) 2016 – In very rare occasions, the USFWS will make emergency changes to current year regulations for upcoming (fall 2016) hunting seasons.
  • July (very late) 2016 – Analyze harvest data from 2015 waterfowl seasons.
  • September 2016 – 2016 dove seasons open; flyways recommend 2017 dove and waterfowl regulations.
  • September (late) 2016 – 2016 waterfowl seasons open.
  • October (late) – USFWS finalizes 2017 dove and waterfowl regulations.
  • April 2017 – States finalize 2017 dove and waterfowl regulations.