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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes to Maintain Duck Hunting Opportunities with Added Restrictions for Some Species

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 9, 2002

Contact:
Chris Tollefson, Nicholas Throckmorton, 202/208-5634


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to maintain hunting regulations similar to those offered in recent years for most species of ducks, but restrict opportunities for some species due to continuing concerns about population status and a poor production outlook this spring in key nesting areas. Under the Service’s late season frameworks proposal, hunting-season lengths for pintails will be much more restrictive and the season for canvasbacks will be closed.

For most duck species, however, the Service is proposing to continue the same season lengths and bag limits that have been offered since 1997. Earlier this year, the Service also agreed to extend by about a week the earliest opening and latest closing dates that individual States can use to set their hunting seasons.

“While it is clear that habitat conditions in the prairies and parklands of mid-continent North America will lead to a reduced fall flight compared to last year, duck numbers are still sufficiently high to offer the hunting opportunities that these seasons afford,” said Service Director Steve Williams. “In light of the unusual situation this year, we have chosen to restrict hunting for selected duck species whose populations remain a concern rather than impose blanket reductions in the upcoming waterfowl season.”

The Service’s proposal was developed after consultation with representatives from the four Flyway Councils (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific), which provide state wildlife agencies a formal mechanism to assist the Service with cooperative management of North America’s waterfowl populations. The Service will soon publish its proposal in the Federal Register and is accepting public comments on the proposal until August 30. After the Service publishes its final late season frameworks in early September, States will set their own season dates, lengths and bag limits within the guidelines the frameworks establish.

Under the proposal, the hunting season on pintails would be reduced from 107 to 60 days in the Pacific Flyway, from 74 to 39 days in the Central Flyway, and from 60 to 30 days in the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyways, with a bag limit of one pintail per day in each flyway. The Service is proposing to close the hunting season on canvasbacks because of recent population declines and a poor outlook for production. Canvasbacks are extremely sensitive to breeding habitat conditions, and season closures have been used in the past because of their relatively low abundance.

Breeding populations of scaup remain well below their long-term average, and as a result the Service is proposing to maintain restrictions enacted in 1999 that reduced the bag limit from six (seven in the Pacific Flyway) to three (four in the Pacific Flyway) per day. Restrictions on the harvest of black ducks in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways that have been in place for a number of years would be continued this year.

The Service’s proposal to allow relatively liberal hunting regulations for most species of ducks was based on biological assessments, primarily on the mallard, conducted within a process known as Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM), which was developed by the Service and Flyway Councils to bring more scientific rigor and objectivity to the regulations-setting process. This year, those assessments suggested that such hunting opportunities were consistent with the long-term welfare of waterfowl populations. More information on the Adaptive Harvest Management process can be found on the Service’s internet site at: http://migratorybirds.fws.gov/mgmt/ahm/ahm-intro.htm

A number of factors aside from season length and bag limits, such as the vagaries of weather, duck migratory behavior and other uncontrollable environmental factors, can affect hunter success. “Certainly, we cannot guarantee good hunting success in any year. However, our proposal will provide hunters the maximum level of opportunity that is consistent with both the need to maintain healthy duck populations and incorporates the best available science on waterfowl populations,” said Williams.

Nonetheless, the Service acknowledges that this year may mark a turning point from recent years of relatively good habitat conditions in the mid-continent nesting areas. “Whether more restrictions on hunting opportunities for ducks may be coming depends heavily on breeding-ground habitat conditions next year, which of course are hard to predict at this time,” said Williams. In addition, the Service and Flyway Councils are working together to expand the capability of the AHM process to more directly account for the biology, status, and migratory behavior of a larger number of duck species.

For detailed descriptions of the Service’s regulatory proposals, consult the Division of Migratory Bird Management’s home page at http://migratorybirds.fws.gov or contact the Division of Migratory Bird Management at (703) 358-1714. Comments will be accepted through August 30, and may be sent to Chief, Office of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource 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.


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