[Federal Register: November 23, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 226)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 58707-58708]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 20

RIN 1018-AH79

Migratory Bird Hunting; Proposal for Migratory Game Bird Hunting 
Regulations; Withdrawal

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule; withdrawal.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hereinafter Service or we) 
proposed in an earlier Federal Register notice to change certain parts 
of the regulatory alternatives for the 2001-02 duck hunting seasons for 
States in the Lower Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, 
Mississippi and Tennessee) of the Mississippi Flyway. Based on a review 
of public comment and other considerations, the Service is withdrawing 
the proposal of October 11, 2001, and discusses possible ways to 
address the issue of framework opening and closing dates in the future.

ADDRESSES: You may inspect comments during normal business hours in 
room 634, Arlington Square Building, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jonathan Andrew, Chief, Division of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (703) 358-

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On October 11, 2001, we published in the 
Federal Register (66 FR 51919) a proposed rule that would change the 
regulatory alternatives for the 2001-02 duck hunting seasons for States 
in the Lower Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, 
Mississippi and Tennessee) of the Mississippi Flyway to allow for a 
season length of 60 days beginning no earlier than September 29 and 
ending no later than January 31. The comment period closed on October 
26, 2001.

Review of Public Comments

    Written comments from the National Flyway Council, the Atlantic 
Flyway Council and five Atlantic Flyway States (GA, FL, NJ, SC, VT), 
the Mississippi Flyway Council's Upper Region Regulation Committee and 
eight Mississippi Flyway States (IL, IN, IA, KY, MI, MN, MO, WI), the 
Central Flyway Council and two Central Flyway States (SD, TX), and the 
Pacific Flyway Council and three Pacific Flyway States (AZ, CA, WY) all 
strongly opposed the proposed rule, questioning the biological 
foundation for the proposal and stating that it circumvents the Flyway 
Council process, among other concerns. A written comment from Senator 
Paul Wellstone and Senator Mark Dayton strongly opposed the proposal. 
Written comments from the International Association of Fish and 
Wildlife Agencies, Louisiana Wildlife Federation, Mississippi Wildlife 
Federation, Boone & Crockett Club, The Wildlife Society, Dallas Safari 
Club, Wildlife Forever, Texas Wildlife Association, Max McGraw Wildlife 
Foundation, Indiana Grand Kankakee Marsh Restoration project, and the 
Izaak Walton League of America all opposed the proposal, calling it 
arbitrary and capricious and questioning whether it violated 
Administrative Procedures Act. Written comments from 12 private 
individuals opposed the proposal. Electronic comments opposing the 
proposal were received from 231 individuals.
    Comments favoring the proposal included written comments from the 
State of Alabama and 5 individuals, and electronic comments from 27 

Service Response

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates the earliest and 
latest dates

[[Page 58708]]

that States can select for duck-hunting seasons within alternative 
regulatory frameworks. The effects of extending these dates have been 
the subject of recent debate within the waterfowl management community, 
and this issue remains unresolved. On October 11, 2001, we proposed, 
upon reconsideration of the previously-established ``liberal'' 
alternative for the Lower Region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, 
Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee) of the Mississippi Flyway, a 
framework opening date of no earlier than September 29 and a closing 
date of no later than January 31, with no reduction (offset) in season 
length. As indicated above, the vast majority of the comments received 
during the public comment period were strongly opposed to the proposal, 
asserting that the proposal: (1) Disregards the integrity of the 
cooperative process to develop hunting regulations that has been 
successfully in place for many years; (2) fails to consider biological, 
technical, and social impacts; (3) established a dangerous precedent in 
the regulations process; (4) neglects potential impacts on other 
species besides the mallard; (5) exacerbates an already unequal 
distribution of harvest and hunter opportunity; (6) disregards 
implications to other states; (7) erodes the long-established Flyway 
Council system; and (8) ignores efforts of the Flyway Councils, 
National Flyway Council, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to 
reach consensus on resolving this issue. As a result of these comments 
and concerns, the Service is withdrawing the proposal of October 11, 
2001, and will maintain the regulatory alternatives for the 2001-02 
duck hunting seasons that were finalized on September 27, 2001 (Federal 
Register, 66 FR 32297). The Service intends to use elements of the 
National Flyway Council's recommendation in its proposed rules for the 
2002-2003 hunting season.
    As part of continuing efforts to develop a resolution to the 
framework-date issue, the Service plans to meet in early December with 
a newly-formed working group established by the International 
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, representing a cross-section 
of all Flyway Councils and States, in order to develop a proposal for 
framework opening and closing dates for the 2002-2003 duck hunting 
season. The encompassing objective of this effort will be to place the 
resolution of this issue back into the cooperative process between the 
States and the Federal Government for developing annual migratory game 
bird hunting regulations.
    At this meeting, the Service will propose that the group consider 
revising the current regulatory packages and extending the opening and 
closing dates for the 2002-03 duck hunting season. As the basis for 
this proposal, key elements of the National Flyway Council 
recommendation for the 2001-2002 season will be used; that is, a 
framework opening date of the Saturday nearest September 24 and a 
closing date of the last Sunday in January, with no offsets in days or 
bag limits, in the ``moderate'' and ``liberal'' regulatory packages. In 
order to resolve a number of critical technical and administrative 
issues, the Service will propose that any changes to existing framework 
be achieved within the context of adaptive harvest management. This 
approach, building on the longstanding consensus of states, Flyway 
Councils, and the Service to pursue an adaptive approach to managing 
waterfowl harvests, would be designed to help identify the effects of 
changes in framework dates, while ensuring that we can account for 
uncertainty surrounding harvest and population impacts in each 
regulatory decision. In the coming months, the Service and State 
technical representatives will consider various alternative hypotheses 
that specify possible expected changes in mallard harvests associated 
with widespread application of extended framework dates and explore 
their management implications. Any proposed changes in framework dates 
would be developed with the tacit understanding that the Flyway 
Councils are prepared to accept the changes in harvest distribution 
that might occur. Also, there is the potential for adverse biological 
impacts to species other than mallards, such as wood ducks, and 
especially those species currently below objective levels (e.g. 
pintails, scaup), therefore, any changes to framework dates will 
require close inspection of relevant harvest and population data.
    Successful implementation of changes to framework dates for the 
2002-03 hunting season will require additional funding to support the 
maintenance of a reliable monitoring program for North American 
waterfowl, including the initiation of a band reporting rate study in 
2002 that will allow the estimation of realized harvest rates for 
mallards and other important waterfowl species, continued efforts to 
improve the national harvest survey, and enhancements to aircraft 
survey capabilities.
    Following the outcome of the December meeting with the Flyway 
Councils and states, the Service will begin to prepare its first 
Federal Register document for the 2002-03 regulations-development cycle 
(Preliminary Rule, to be published in March 2002, prior to the Flyway 
Council meetings), in which it will announce its intent to propose 
changes to framework dates. This document will also include additional 
information regarding progress in addressing monitoring and evaluation 
concerns expressed earlier and provide specific alternatives to revise 
the administrative and procedural process for regulations development.

    Dated: November 16, 2001.
Joseph E. Doddridge,
Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
[FR Doc. 01-29235 Filed 11-21-01; 8:45 am]