The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announces a liberal waterfowl season for 2008. In three flyways, the Service Regulations Committee recommends closing the canvasback season due to low populations and restricting scaup harvest due to long-term population declines. Given increasing wood duck populations, the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways would get an extra wood duck in the daily bag limit.
At right: Audio clip of the news conference held by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, on August 1, 2008, regarding the 2008-09 waterfowl hunting regulations.
Liberal waterfowl hunting season continues for 2008-2009
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed continuation of liberal hunting season lengths for the upcoming 2008-2009 late waterfowl seasons. Duck hunting season lengths would be 60 days in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, 74 days in the Central Flyway, and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. However, in three flyways, the Service Regulations Committee recommends closing the canvasback season due to low populations and restricting scaup harvest due to long-term population declines.Given increasing wood duck populations, the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways would get an extra wood duck in the daily bag limit.
"All the information on the status of waterfowl populations and habitat conditions is now in and has been carefully analyzed by our biologists," said Service Director H. Dale Hall. "Though pond and duck numbers are down from the last few years on the breeding grounds, they remain above the thresholds necessary for a liberal season, and that is what we are proposing this year."
“We have taken steps to conserve scaup and canvasback populations," continued Hall. "Following our recently adopted scaup harvest strategy, the Service is reducing hunting pressure on scaup to ensure a harvest we believe the population can support. Unfortunately, canvasback numbers were below the level that would permit a nationwide harvest.”
States select their season from within the frameworks which establish the outer limits of season length, bag limits and season beginning and ending date.
Brief highlights of the proposed nationwide frameworks are below:
- Due to the ongoing "Hunters' Choice" experiment in the Central Flyway, that flyway would continue with regulations similar to last year. Canvasback and scaup seasons would be unchanged. The Hunter's Choice bag limit is an aggregate bag intended to reduce the harvest of species with lower abundance. For example, hunters are allowed only one pintail, canvasback or mottled duck in the bag while maintaining full hunting opportunity on abundant species such as drake mallards.
- The Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways would be allowed an increase from two to three wood ducks in the bag limit.
- A full season on pintails with a one bird daily bag limit would be offered nation-wide, similar to last year.
- After a record canvasback population estimate last year, followed by this year’s low estimate, Service staff reviewed survey methods, data and analytical procedures and found nothing unusual. Declines in canvasbacks counted were widespread, occurring in the same areas that experienced increases last year. Based on the harvest estimate from last year’s seasons, it is clear that harvest alone is not responsible for the drop. Canvasback estimates typically have higher variation than for many other species. Although it is possible that the large change in the population estimate is simply the result of normal sampling variation, the Service has no data to suggest this year's population estimate is not accurate. Using this estimate and the approved Canvasback Harvest Strategy, the allowable harvest this year did not permit a nationwide canvasback season. There was sufficient allowable harvest to permit the Central Flyway to continue their Hunter's Choice experiment, and all Flyways recommended they be allowed to do so.
The proposed late season waterfowl frameworks will appear in a mid-August edition of the Federal Register for public comment. You can see the “Status of Waterfowl” report and video as well as last year’s harvest figures on this website.
Flyway specific highlights of the proposed late-season frameworks are below:
Atlantic Flyway (Connecticut,Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina,Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia):
Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between September 27, 2008, and January 25, 2009. The proposed daily bag limit is six and may include no more than four mallards (two hens), three wood ducks, two redheads, two hooded mergansers, one black duck, one pintail, one mottled duck, one fulvous whistling duck, and four scoters. The season on harlequin ducks and canvasbacks is closed. A hybrid regulation for scaup would be allowed, consisting of a two-bird bag limit for any 20 consecutive hunting days and one scaup per day for the remainder of the season.
Geese: For light geese, states would be able to select a 107-day season between October 1, 2008, and March 10, 2009, with a daily bag limit of 15 birds and no possession limit. Seasons for Canada geese would vary in length among states and areas depending on the populations of birds that occur in those areas. The daily bag limit would be five birds in hunt zones established for resident populations of Canada geese. In hunt zones established for migratory populations, bag limits would be three or fewer and would vary among states and areas. For Atlantic brant, the season length may be 60 days with a daily bag limit of three.
MississippiFlyway (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin):
Ducks: A hunting season is proposed of not more than 60 days between September 27, 2008, and January 25, 2009. The proposed daily bag limit is six and may include no more than four mallards (two hens), three mottled ducks, three wood ducks, two redheads, one black duck and one pintail. There is no open season for canvasbacks. A hybrid season would be allowed for scaup during which the daily bag limit would be two for no more than 20 consecutive days and one bird for the remaining 40 days. The proposed daily bag limit of mergansers is five, only two of which may be hooded mergansers.
Geese: Generally, seasons for Canada geese would be held between September 27, 2008, and January 31, 2009, and vary in length among States and areas, with daily bag limits varying from one to three. States would be able to select seasons for light geese not to exceed 107 days with 20 geese daily between September 27, 2008, and March 10, 2009; for white-fronted geese this proposed season would not exceed 72 days with a two-bird daily bag limit or 86 days with a one-bird daily bag limit between September 27, 2008, and February 15, 2009; and for brant it would not exceed 70 days with a two-bird daily bag limit or 107 days with a one-bird daily bag limit between September 27, 2008, and January 31, 2009. There would be no possession limit for light geese.
Central Flyway (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):
Ducks: Duck seasons are proposed to be held between September 27, 2008, and January 25, 2009. In the High Plains Mallard Management Unit (roughly west of the 100th Meridian), a 97-day season is proposed. The last 23 days would be able to start no earlier than December 13, 2008. A 74-day season is proposed for the remainder of the Central Flyway. This is the third and final year of the 3-year evaluation of the Hunter's Choice duck bag limit in the Central Flyway.
The Hunter's Choice bag limit is an aggregate bag, of which only one duck from the following may be taken: hen mallard, canvasback, pintail, or mottled duck. Five States (North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, and Texas) have been randomly assigned to have Hunter's Choice regulations and the remaining five States (Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico) will serve as controls (season within a season regulations for canvasbacks and pintails) as the evaluation proceeds.
In Montana, Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, the daily bag limit would be 6 ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: mallard — five, no more than two of which may be females; redhead, scaup, wood duck — two; pintail, mottled duck, canvasback — one. For pintails and canvasbacks, the season length would be 39 days, which may be split according to applicable zones/split duck hunting configurations approved for each state. The possession limit would be twice the daily bag limit. In North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Kansas, and Texas, the daily bag limit would be five ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: scaup, redhead and wood duck — two; only one duck from the following group — hen mallard, mottled duck, pintail, canvasback. The possession limit would be twice the daily bag.
Geese: Under the proposal, States may select seasons between September 27, 2008 and February 15, 2009 for dark geese and between September 27, 2008 and March 10, 2009 for light geese. East tier states would be able to select a 107-day season for Canada geese season with a daily bag limit of three. For white-fronted geese, states would be able to select either a 72-day season with a daily bag limit of two birds or an 86-day season with a daily bag limit of one bird. In the West Tier, states may select a 107-day dark-goose season with a daily bag limit of five birds. In the Western Goose Zone of Texas, the State would be able to select a 95-day season with a daily bag limit of four dark geese (including no more than one white-fronted goose). Colorado would be able to select a 107-day season with an aggregate bag limit of four. For light geese, all states would be able to select a 107-day season with a daily bag limit of 20 and no possession limit.
Pacific Flyway (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):
Ducks: Under the proposal, states are allowed a 107-day general duck season between September 27, 2008, and January 25, 2009. The proposed daily bag limit is seven ducks,including no more than two mallard hens, two redheads and one pintail. In addition, an 86 day season for scaup can be chosen with a daily bag limit of two. The canvasback season is closed.
Geese: 107-day seasons are proposed for the Pacific Flyway with outside dates between September 27,2008, and March 10, 2009. Proposed basic daily bag limits are up to 10 light geese and four dark geese. There are exceptions to the basic bag limits and season structures for geese in many states, so consult State regulations for specific details. In California, Washington and Oregon, the dark goose limit does not include brant. For brant, the proposed season lengths are 16 days in Oregon and Washington and 30 days in California, with a two-bird daily limit. Washington and California would be able to choose seasons in each of the two zones.
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More than 14.5 million ducks were harvested in the United States during the 2007-2008 waterfowl hunting season, according to preliminary estimates by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is up from 13.8 million ducks harvested the previous season. Hunters harvested almost 3.7 million geese, similar to the 2006-7 estimate. These figures come from a report called Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2007 and 2008 hunting seasons. The Service generates the estimates contained in this report based on surveys of selected waterfowl hunters through the cooperative State-Federal Harvest Information Program.
Almost one million duck hunters spent nearly seven million days in the field, up slightly from the previous season's nearly 6.8 million days. More than 700,000 hunters spent approximately four million days hunting geese, which is similar to the 2006-2007 season.
In the Atlantic Flyway, approximately 1.7 million ducks were harvested during the 2007-2008 season, similar to the prior season. The 936,000 geese harvested in 2007 represent an increase from the 714,000 harvested the previous season.
In the Mississippi Flyway, approximately 6.7 million ducks were harvested, almost a half million more than the previous season. An estimated 1.3 million geese were harvested, similar to the previous season.
In the Central Flyway, hunters bagged nearly 2.7 million ducks last season, an increase of 200,000 birds. The harvest of more than 900,000 geese was similar to the previous season.
In the Pacific Flyway, hunters harvested more than 3.4 million ducks and almost 500,000 geese - both estimates similar to the 2006-2007 season's harvest.
In Alaska, nearly 68,000 ducks were harvested, similar to the previous season. The goose harvest, at 6,800 birds, was slightly down from 7,500 birds in the previous season.
As has been in the past, mallards were the most prevalent duck bagged by hunters in the United States, with approximately 4.9 million birds harvested. Other dominant species this year were green-winged teal, with almost two million birds harvested, and gadwall, with nearly 1.5 million harvested. Wood ducks and blue-wing/cinnamon teal rounded out the top five hunted waterfowl with more than one million of each species harvested during the 2007-8 season.
Canada geese were the most prevalent geese harvested with almost 2.7 million birds taken. Snow geese were the second most popular goose species harvested, with an estimated 560,000 taken nationally.
The Service compiles this report each year to estimate waterfowl hunting activity, success and harvest by species. These surveys are used by the Service and State wildlife agencies, in part, to develop estimates of the number of all migratory birds harvested throughout the country, as well as to establish season lengths and bag limits designed to maintain healthy sustainable waterfowl populations.
More than 14.5 million ducks were harvested in the United States during the 2007-2008 waterfowl hunting season, according to preliminary estimates by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is up from 13.8 million ducks harvested the previous season. Hunters harvested almost 3.7 million geese, similar to the 2006-2007 estimate. These figures come from a report called Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2007 and 2008 hunting seasons. The Service generates the estimates contained in this report based on surveys of selected waterfowl hunters through the cooperative State-Federal Harvest Information Program.
The first 75th Anniversary Federal Duck Stamp was sold to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall during a special ceremony hosted June 27 by Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, near Baltimore, Maryland. Minnesota artist Joseph Hautman's depiction of a pair of Northern pintails was selected to grace the stamp.
In 1934, Postmaster William Mooney sold the very first Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, popularly known as the Federal Duck Stamp, to J. N. "Ding" Darling. Darling was the first Federal Duck Stamp artist and also served as Director of the U.S. Biological Survey, the forerunner of the Service. Every year since, the first Duck Stamp sale has been made to the Director of the Service in an event that has become an eagerly anticipated annual tradition. Bass Pro Shops sponsored similar First Day of Sale events at many of its other forty-four retail stores located throughout the country.
All waterfowl hunters age 16 years and older are required to purchase and carry in the field the current Migratory Bird Conservation and Hunting Stamp, but conservationists, stamp collectors and others also purchase the stamp and support habitat conservation. Ninety-eight percent of the proceeds from the $15 Duck Stamp go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund, which supports the acquisition of wetland and associated upland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. To date, Duck Stamp funds have been used to purchase habitat at hundreds of refuges located in nearly every state in the nation. These refuges offer unparalleled recreational opportunities, including hunting, fishing, bird watching and photography.
Winning artist Joe Hautman of Plymouth, Minnesota previously won the Federal Duck Stamp contest in 1992 and 2002, and has won multiple state Duck Stamp contests as well. His brothers, Bob and Jim, are also multiple Federal Duck Stamp Contest winners. Hautman's winning art depicts two pintails -- a male and female -- nestled in the very type of wetland habitat his art will help protect.
The 2008-2009 Federal Junior Duck Stamp also went on sale at the event. Eighteen-year-old Seokkyun Hong of Dallas, Texas, was the winning artist, and his depiction of a pair of Nene (Hawaiian goose) is featured on the stamp. The design for the new stamp was chosen by a panel of judges at the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest, held at the San Diego Zoo last spring. Proceeds from Junior Duck Stamp sales are used to support environmental education efforts and awards for contest winners.
Duck Stamps can be purchased at hundreds of post offices across the country, as well as major sporting goods stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses. For information on other Federal Duck Stamp products and buying options, please visit the FWS Web site.
Most waterfowl hunters have heard the term Adaptive Harvest Management, or the initials AHM, but few probably know what it is or how it works.
The annual process of setting duck-hunting regulations in the United States is based on a system of resource monitoring, data analyses, and rule making. Each year, monitoring activities such as aerial surveys and hunter questionnaires provide information on harvest levels, population size, and habitat conditions. Data collected from these monitoring programs are analyzed each year, and proposals for duck-hunting regulations are developed by the Flyway Councils, States, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS). After extensive public review, the USFWS announces a regulatory framework within which States can set their hunting seasons.
In 1995, the USFWS adopted the concept of adaptive resource management for regulating duck harvests in the United States. The adaptive approach explicitly recognizes that managers cannot know with certainty the effect of a particular set of hunting regulations, and provides a framework for making objective decisions in the face of that uncertainty. Key to the adaptive approach is an ability to predict the effects of regulations -- the better those predictions are, the more effective future regulatory decisions will be. Thus, adaptive management relies on a repetitive cycle of population and habitat monitoring, modeling and prediction, and decision making to clarify the relationships among hunting regulations, harvests, and waterfowl abundance.
In regulating waterfowl harvests, managers face four primary sources of uncertainty:
- variation in the environment - changing weather conditions, as well as changes in other key features of waterfowl habitat; an example is the annual change in the number of ponds in the Prairie Pothole Region, where water conditions influence duck reproductive success;
- limited management control - the ability of managers to control harvest only within limits; the harvest resulting from a particular set of hunting regulations cannot be predicted with certainty because of variation in weather conditions, timing of migration, hunter effort, and other factors;
- sampling error - key population attributes (e.g., population size, reproductive rate, harvest) must be estimated through application of statistical sampling designs, and estimates are computed with known error related to the process of sampling; and
- biological uncertainty - an incomplete understanding of biological processes that cause waterfowl populations to increase or decrease; an example is the long-standing debate about whether harvest is additive to other sources of mortality or whether populations compensate for hunting losses through reduced natural mortality. Biological uncertainty increases contentiousness in the decision-making process (because different biological hypotheses can get great implications to selecting the most appropriate harvest strategy) and decreases the extent to which managers can meet long-term conservation goals.
Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) was developed to be an open and systematic process (management objectives and ground rules clearly defined) for making sound, objective decisions even given all the sources of uncertainty just described. The key components of AHM include:
- a limited number of regulatory alternatives, which describe Flyway-specific season lengths, bag limits, and framework dates (earliest opening, last closing dates). These have been established as the familiar Liberal, Moderate, and Restrictive packages in each Flyway;
- a set of population models describing various hypotheses about the effects of harvest and the environment on waterfowl abundance;
- a measure of reliability (probability or "weight") for each population model that provides an indication of how well this model has predicted population change in the past, in relation to other models in the model set; and
- an explicitly defined management objective against which the outcome of regulatory strategies can be evaluated.
These components are used in a mathematical procedure called optimization (used in many fields and not unique to wildlife management) to specify the best possible regulatory strategy given current biological understanding (expressed through alternative models and associated weights), the current population size and habitat condition (from monitoring programs), the expressed goal of management, and the regulatory options available. A regulatory strategy specifies the best regulatory alternative (package) for each possible combination of breeding population size and amount of available habitat. The setting of annual hunting regulations then occurs as a repetitive or iterative process, where:
- each year, an optimal regulatory alternative (package) is identified based on population size and habitat conditions, and on current model weights;
- after the regulatory decision is made, each competing biological model is used to predict the following year's breeding population size;
- when monitoring data become available the following year, each model's weight is increased to the extent that observed population size agrees with the predictions of that model, and decreased to the extent that they disagree; and
- the new model weights are used to start another iteration of the process.
By iteratively updating model weights and using these new weights in making sound regulatory choices, the process can help identify which model is most appropriate to describe the dynamics of the managed population, that is, which model best predicts the effects of harvest and environmental conditions. The process is optimal in that it specifies the best possible decision given a management objective, the current understanding of important biological processes, present population size and habitat conditions, and the regulatory packages at managers' disposal. It is adaptive in the sense that the harvest strategy "evolves" as managers learn through the comparison of observed population sizes and those predicted by the competing biological models.
More detailed information on the process can be found in the USFWS annual AHM reports published since 1999 and in other scientific reports and journal articles published on the topic.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Service Regulations Committee met yesterday with consultants for the Flyway Councils to begin deliberations on the waterfowl hunting regulations for the upcoming fall season. Among a number of key issues addressed by the Regulations Committee this year was a harvest strategy for scaup.
“Hunters are among the nation’s foremost conservationists - they give back far more than they take,” said Service Director H. Dale Hall. “As sustainable hunting is the cornerstone of wildlife management, we must prepare to take action to conserve declining scaup populations to ensure we can provide hunting opportunities in future seasons. We are proud to have adopted a strategy to ensure harvest regulations are in concert with the status of scaup populations.”
Work on a scaup harvest strategy has been ongoing for five years. In 2006, Director H. Dale Hall and the Service Regulations Committee gave the Service and Flyway Councils one additional year to develop a scaup harvest strategy. The strategy was prepared in time to consider for the 2007 season, but an additional year was provided for biologists, administrators and hunters to become familiar with the strategy and to prepare for implementation. The harvest strategy will be used by managers to determine the appropriate bag limits and season lengths in relation to the current population size.
The scaup population has experienced a significant long-term decline. The 2007 population estimate, the most recent data available, was the third lowest on record. Recent population estimates have been more than 30 percent below the 55 year average with the biggest decline occurring over the last 25 years. The Service has expressed concern over the scaup decline for more than a decade and implemented initial harvest restrictions in 1999.
Scaup are diving ducks that breed across a large area ranging from the prairies to the tundra and boreal forest of Alaska and Canada and winter in larger bodies of water such as the Mississippi River, coastal areas, and the Great Lakes.
There is evidence that the long-term scaup decline may be related to changes in scaup habitat. Several different ideas have been proposed to explain the decline, including a change in migration habitat conditions and food availability, effects of contaminants on scaup survival and reproduction and changing conditions on the breeding grounds possibly related to warming trends in portions of northern North America. Hunting has not been implicated as a cause of the past scaup decline, but the Service is committed to ensuring that harvest levels remain commensurate with the ability of the declining population to sustain harvest.
With the adoption of this strategy, the Service will determine the appropriate regulations for scaup in relation to this year’s breeding population estimates. Currently, Service biologists are compiling the results from this year’s aerial surveys to estimate the current population size. A recommendation for this fall’s hunting season length and daily bag limit -- the number of scaup allowed in a day’s hunt -- will be made after the next Service Regulations Committee meeting in late July.
Also during the June 2008 meeting, state wildlife agencies, the Flyway Councils and the Service agreed on season lengths and bag limits for early season game species such as resident Canada geese and blue-winged teal. The special September blue-winged teal season will not change from last year, with a 16-day season in September for select states in the Mississippi and Central Flyways and a nine-day season in some states in the Atlantic Flyway.
Regulations regarding migratory bird hunting are varied and sometimes complex. Why is that? Migratory birds in North America are an international resource, with numerous species breeding throughout the United States and Canada. In the fall of each year, these birds migrate south to winter in the USA, Mexico, and Central and South America.
Because these birds cross international borders, ultimate management authority lies with the federal governments in the respective countries. Migratory bird treaties with other countries govern the management of migratory birds in the US, distinguishing those species that can be hunted from those that can't and establishing limits on hunting-season dates and season lengths. State and provincial agencies can set additional regulations within the overall frameworks established by treaties and federal regulations.