U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service News Release


          June 3, 1999                         Chris Tollefson   202-208-5634



          CHANGES IN BAITING REGULATIONS SUPPORT WETLANDS MANAGEMENT

In a move that will promote migratory bird habitat restoration efforts and make it easier for hunters to comply with Federal and state regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is revising regulations governing migratory game bird baiting for the first time in more than 25 years.

The Service published a final rule in today's Federal Register that will allow the hunting of all migratory game birds over natural vegetation that has been mowed, tilled, or manipulated in other ways. The rule gives landowners the flexibility to maintain, develop, manage, and hunt wetland habitat essential for migratory birds without fear of violating Federal regulations that prohibit hunting over areas where seed or other feed has been exposed or scattered.

"Wetland conservation on private lands is essential to the long-term survival and growth of waterfowl and other migratory bird populations in North America. This change will provide additional habitat for birds and increase opportunities for hunting over restored and enhanced wetlands, a crucial incentive for landowners that benefits a wide range of species," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark.

More than half of the original wetlands in the United States have been lost, and many of the remaining wetlands are degraded. Loss of habitat is the leading threat to the Nation's migratory birds and the Service has worked to halt that loss by promoting both public and private wetland conservation projects.

In recent years, however, especially in the Gulf Coast region, wetland restoration efforts on private lands have been hampered by existing regulations that prohibit hunting if seeds have been exposed or scattered. Such scattering can result from many common land management practices used to create and maintain wetlands--as, for example, when brush is cleared from overgrown wetlands to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl. Because the average growing season in the Gulf Coast states often exceeds 280 days, such clearing may be necessary to prevent wetlands from becoming overgrown with rank vegetation. In the past, keeping these wetlands clear (and attractive to waterfowl and other migratory birds) might have made them off limits for hunting.

After a comprehensive review of hundreds of comments from citizens, state agencies, flyway councils and other organizations, the Service has revised its regulations to permit the hunting of any migratory game bird over natural vegetation manipulated at any time. This change recognizes the need to allow the necessary management of these areas to benefit migratory birds while still providing hunting opportunities.

The new rule seeks to eliminate past public confusion about the types of activities considered to be baiting. Hunters will now have assurance that the inadvertent scattering of seed from standing or flooded standing crops when they enter or leave a hunting area, place decoys, or retrieve downed birds does not constitute illegal baiting. The rule also allows the use of natural or agricultural vegetation to conceal hunting blinds, provided hunters do not expose or scatter seed or grain when making blinds in agricultural fields.

On agricultural lands, the rule maintains a distinction between land management practices allowable for the hunting of all migratory game birds and those practices allowed for hunting birds such as doves and pigeons but not permitted for waterfowl, cranes, and coots. The rule provides definitions for these different land management practices.

Although the Service had considered prohibiting hunting migratory game birds over top-sown fields, the new rule continues to allow hunting over top-sown seeds that are present as a result of a normal agricultural planting. It also authorizes hunting over seeds top-sown as part of a normal soil stabilization practice. The definition of normal soil stabilization practice includes plantings intended to reclaim surface-mined lands as well as measures to control agricultural soil erosion.

The rule incorporates the Service policy of relying on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to define the agricultural activities and soil stabilization measures considered normal in a given area. By relying on U.S. Department of Agriculture state extension specialists as authorities on agricultural issues, the Service, in cooperation with the state fish and wildlife agencies, will use a reliable and consistent source of guidance for making determinations about the legality of hunting over agricultural areas

Last October, a new public law was passed that eliminated strict liability for baiting offenses and instead made it unlawful for anyone to hunt with the aid of bait ". . . if the person knows or reasonably should know . . ." that an area is baited. This law has been in effect for much of the 1999 migratory bird hunting season. The new rule incorporates this change.

The Service began a review of various wildlife regulations in 1991 and published its intent to review the migratory bird regulations in 1993. In 1996, the Service announced its intention to review baiting regulations separately from other regulations dealing with migratory birds. At that time, the agency specified that it planned to address issues involving migratory bird habitat conservation practices such as moist-soil management.

The Service has received extensive public comments on the migratory bird regulations. In addition, in 1996, the Service asked the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a professional organization representing all 50 state fish and wildlife agencies, to review waterfowl baiting issues related to management of moist-soil areas of natural vegetation and make recommendations. The Service received those recommendations in May 1997 and incorporated some of them into the final rule.

"The rule gives clear guidance to hunters and landowners about when and where hunting is allowed while eliminating the need for subjective determinations about the legitimacy of agricultural practices. Everyone will find it easier to conserve and enjoy wetlands once it is in place," Clark said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

-FWS-


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Keywords: Baiting, Regulations, Wetlands