How Regulations Are Set - The Process
Migratory game bird management in the United States is a cooperative effort of state and federal governments. The U.S. and Canada are divided into four administrative flyways: the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific. Each flyway has a Flyway Council (Councils) consisting of representatives from state and provincial wildlife management agencies, who work together and with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and the Canadian Wildlife Service to manage migratory birds in their flyway.
The Councils are advised by flyway technical committees consisting of state and provincial biologists. These technical committees evaluate species and population status, harvest, and hunter-participation data during the development of the Council recommendations. Supported by those biological evaluations, the Councils (U.S. members only) recommend hunting regulations to the Service for waterfowl and for most migratory shore and upland game birds.
The Service's Migratory Bird Program, with input from biologists in the Service's Regional Offices, evaluates the Council recommendations, considering species status and biology, cumulative effects of regulations, and existing regulatory policy. The Division of Migratory Bird Management (Division) then develops their recommendations, which may support Council recommendations or may differ from them, based on their assessment of likely impacts of the proposed regulations.
The Division and the Councils present their recommendations to the Service's Regulations Committee, which consists of members of the Service Directorate. The Service Regulations Committee considers both the Council and Migratory Bird Program recommendations, then forwards its decisions on annual migratory bird hunting regulations to the Service Director and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for approval.
Once regulatory proposals are approved, they are published in the Federal Register for public comment. After the comment period, final regulations are developed, which are then published in the Federal Register as a final rule from which the individual States select their seasons.
Process for Setting Hunting Regulations
Beginning with the 2016-17 hunting seasons, a new schedule was implemented for setting annual migratory bird hunting regulations. The historic early and late season regulatory actions were combined into a single process that establishes migratory bird hunting seasons much earlier than the previous system did. Under the new process, proposed hunting season frameworks for a given year are developed in the fall and winter of the prior year. Those frameworks are finalized in the spring, thereby enabling the state agencies to select and publish their season dates in early summer.
The change was made to address three primary desires: (1) reduce costs associated with the annual regulations process, (2) establish final regulations earlier in the year to better comply with federal and state administrative processes, and (3) allow states to select and publish their season dates and inform the public earlier to facilitate planning. Assessments conducted by the Division indicated the change in timing would only have minimal impacts on regulatory decisions compared to the prior method.