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As a result of steady or improving population numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposes continued liberal waterfowl hunting season lengths and bag limits for the 2015-16 late seasons. Each year, the Service works in partnership with states from the four Flyway Councils (Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic) to establish regulatory frameworks for waterfowl hunting season lengths, dates and bag limits. States select their individual seasons from within the federal frameworks to establish their earliest beginning and latest ending dates, and bag limits.
Concurrent with this season’s frameworks announcement, the Service is also streamlining the process by which it sets annual migratory game bird hunting seasons and bag limits. Beginning with the 2016-17 hunting seasons, the current two-cycle regulatory practice will be compressed into a single annual process. Biological data from the past year will now be used to set hunting season dates and project appropriate harvest limits for each game species. The change will give biologists more time to analyze bird survey data that inform the Service’s regulatory decisions, and will give the public more time to weigh in on proposed rules. The change will also ensure that administrative procedures do not delay the opening of state hunting seasons.
The new regulatory process came out of a Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement published by the Service in 2013 that was informed by public comment. For more details about the new process and its impacts, see http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdfs/FSEIS%20Issuance%20of%20Annual%20Regulations%20Permitting%20the%20Hunting%20of%20Migratory%20Birds.pdf.
The proposed federal frameworks 2015-16 late seasons include duck hunting season lengths of 60 days in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, 74 days in the Central Flyway (with an additional 23 days in the High Plains areas), and 107 days in the Pacific Flyway. The proposed frameworks include a full season on pintails with a two-bird daily bag limit nationwide, and a full season on canvasbacks with a two-bird daily bag limit nationwide. The proposed late-season waterfowl frameworks will appear in a mid-August edition of the Federal Register for public comment.
Flyway-specific highlights of the proposed late-season waterfowl hunting frameworks are as follows:
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):
Mississippi Flyway (Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin):
Central Flyway (Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):
Pacific Flyway (Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming):
The Service’s 2015 Waterfowl Population Status Report summarizes information on the status of duck and goose populations and habitat conditions during the spring of 2015. Overall, population estimates for most species of ducks remained steady for this breeding season. In the traditional survey area, which includes Alaska, the north-central United States, and south-central and northern Canada, the total 2015 duck population estimate (excluding scoters, eiders, long-tailed ducks, mergansers and wood ducks) is 49.5 million birds. This population estimate is similar to the 2014 estimate of 49.2 million, and is 43 percent higher than the long-term average (1955-2014).
Although most duck populations remain steady, when and where waterfowl will be encountered this fall depends on many factors. Food availability, habitat conditions and other factors all influence local duck and goose abundance, distribution, behavior and ultimately, hunter success.
The Service continues to monitor habitat changes throughout the survey regions and is mindful of large-scale changes in the all regions of North America. Climatic changes and extreme weather events may negatively impact duck production in the future.
Conservation efforts are important to ensuring continued population stability of ducks and geese. Waterfowl hunters contribute to conservation efforts through the purchase of a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (also known as the Duck Stamp). The purchase of habitat ultimately benefits waterfowl and other birds as well as many other species of wildlife.
The Waterfowl Status Report, more details from the waterfowl population survey crews, and information about waterfowl management across North America are available at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/ . To view a video of the Status of Waterfowl video visit: http://flyways.us/status-of-waterfowl/video-report/.
Of the more than 1,000 species protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, approximately 170 species are game birds. Fewer than 60 species are typically hunted each year, subject to limits based on data from aerial surveys and monitoring reports. The Service publishes migratory game bird regulations each year in the Federal Register.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.
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