[Federal Register: September 8, 2005 (Volume 70, Number 173)]
[Page 53376-53379]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Migratory Bird Hunting; Notice of Intent To Prepare a 
Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the Sport Hunting of 
Migratory Birds

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or we) is issuing 
this notice to advise the public that we are initiating efforts to 
prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the 
Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds under the authority of the Migratory 
Bird Treaty Act. The EIS will consider a range of management 
alternatives for addressing sport hunting of migratory birds under the 
authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Service seeks 
suggestions and comments on the scope and substance of this

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supplemental EIS, options or alternatives to be considered, and 
important management issues. Federal and State agencies and the public 
are invited to present their views on the subject to the Service. While 
we have yet to determine potential sites of public scoping meetings, we 
will publish a notice of any such public meetings with the locations, 
dates, and times in the Federal Register.

DATES: You must submit written comments regarding EIS scoping by 
January 6, 2006, to the address below.

ADDRESSES: You should send written comments to the Chief, Division of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department 
of the Interior, MS MBSP-4107-ARLSQ, 1849 C Street, NW., Washington, DC 
20240. Alternately, you may fax comments to (703) 358-2217 or e-mail 
comments to huntingseis@fws.gov. All comments received, including names 
and addresses, will become part of the public record. Anonymous 
comments will not be considered. Further, all written comments must be 
submitted on 8.5-by-11-inch paper. You may inspect comments during 
normal business hours in room 4107, 4501 North Fairfax Drive, 
Arlington, Virginia.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brian Millsap, Chief, or Ron W. Kokel, 
Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
(703) 358-1714.


Background and Overview

    Migratory game birds are those bird species so designated in 
bilateral conventions between the United States and Canada, Mexico, 
Japan, and Russia for the protection and management of these birds. 
Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife 
Improvement Act of 1978 (16 U.S.C. 703-712), the Secretary of the 
Interior is authorized to determine when ``hunting, taking, capture, 
killing, possession, sale, purchase, shipment, transportation, 
carriage, or export of any * * * bird, or any part, nest or egg'' of 
migratory game birds can take place, and to adopt regulations for this 
purpose. These regulations are issued with due regard to ``the zones of 
temperature and the distribution, abundance, economic value, breeding 
habits, and times and lines of migratory flight of such birds'' and 
compatibility with the conventions. This responsibility has been 
delegated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of 
the Interior as the lead Federal agency for managing and conserving 
migratory birds in the United States.
    The Service currently promulgates regulations allowing and 
governing the hunting of migratory game birds in the families Anatidae 
(waterfowl), Gruidae (cranes), Rallidae (rails), Scolopacidae (snipe 
and woodcock), and Columbidae (doves and pigeons). Regulations 
governing seasons and limits are promulgated annually, in part due to 
considerations such as the abundance of birds, which can change from 
year to year, and are developed by establishing the frameworks, or 
outside limits, for earliest opening and latest closing dates, season 
lengths, limits (daily bag and possession), and areas for migratory 
game bird hunting. These ``annual'' regulations have been promulgated 
by the Service each year since 1918. Other regulations, termed 
``basic'' regulations (for example, those governing hunting methods), 
are promulgated once and changed only when a need to do so arises. All 
hunting regulations are contained in 50 CFR parts 20 and 92.

The Current Process for Establishing Sport Hunting Regulations

    Acknowledging regional differences in hunting conditions and an 
increased understanding of population status and distribution, the 
Service in 1947 administratively divided the nation into four Flyways 
for the primary purpose of managing the harvest of migratory game 
birds. Each Flyway (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific) has a 
Flyway Council, a formal organization generally composed of one member 
from each State and Province in that Flyway. The Flyway Councils, 
established through the International Association of Fish and Wildlife 
Agencies (IAFWA), also assist in researching and providing migratory 
game bird management information for Federal, State, and Provincial 
Governments, as well as private conservation agencies and the general 
    The annual establishment of migratory game bird hunting regulations 
is constrained by three primary factors. Legal and administrative 
considerations dictate how long the rulemaking process will last. Most 
importantly, however, the biological cycles of migratory game birds 
control the timing of data-gathering activities and thus the dates on 
which these results are available for consideration and deliberation.
    The process includes two separate regulations-development 
schedules, based on early and late hunting-season regulations. Early 
hunting seasons pertain to all migratory game bird species in Alaska, 
Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands; migratory game birds other 
than waterfowl (i.e., dove, woodcock, etc.); and special early 
waterfowl seasons, such as those for teal or resident Canada geese. 
Early hunting seasons generally begin in early September. Late hunting 
seasons generally start in late September, and include most waterfowl 
seasons not already established.
    There are basically no differences in the processes for 
establishing early and late hunting seasons. For each cycle, Service 
biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data and 
provide this information to all those involved in the process through a 
series of published status reports and presentations to Flyway Councils 
and other interested parties. Because the Service is required to take 
abundance of migratory game birds and other factors into consideration, 
the Service undertakes a number of surveys throughout the year in 
conjunction with Service Regional Offices, the Canadian Wildlife 
Service, and State and Provincial wildlife-management agencies. To 
determine the appropriate frameworks for each species, we consider 
factors such as population size and trend, geographic distribution, 
annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering 
habitat, the number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest.
    After frameworks are established by the Service for outside dates, 
season lengths, limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting, 
States then select season dates, limits, and other regulatory options 
for their respective hunting seasons. States may be more conservative 
in their selections than the Federal frameworks allow but not more 

The Tribal Process

    Beginning with the 1985-86 hunting season, we have employed 
guidelines described in the June 4, 1985, Federal Register (50 FR 
23467) to establish special migratory game bird hunting regulations on 
Federal Indian reservations (including off-reservation trust lands) and 
ceded lands. We developed these guidelines in response to tribal 
requests for our recognition of their reserved hunting rights, and for 
some tribes, recognition of their authority to regulate hunting by both 
tribal and nontribal members throughout their reservations. The current 
guidelines include possibilities for:
    (1) On-reservation hunting by both tribal and nontribal members, 
with hunting by nontribal members on some reservations to take place 
within Federal frameworks, but on dates different from

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those selected by the surrounding State(s);
    (2) On-reservation hunting by tribal members only, outside of usual 
Federal frameworks for season dates and length, and for daily bag and 
possession limits; and
    (3) Off-reservation hunting by tribal members on ceded lands, 
outside of usual framework dates and season length, with some added 
flexibility in daily bag and possession limits.
    In all cases, tribal regulations established under the guidelines 
must be consistent with the annual March 10 to September 1 closed 
season mandated by the 1916 Convention Between the United States and 
Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds 
(Convention). The guidelines are applicable to those tribes that have 
reserved hunting rights on Federal Indian reservations (including off-
reservation trust lands) and ceded lands. They also may be applied to 
the establishment of migratory game bird hunting regulations for 
nontribal members on all lands within the exterior boundaries of 
reservations where tribes have full wildlife management authority over 
such hunting, or where the tribes and affected States otherwise have 
reached agreement over hunting by nontribal members on non-Indian 
    The current process for establishing special migratory bird hunting 
regulations for certain tribes on Federal Indian reservations, off-
reservation trust lands, and ceded lands consists of active 
solicitation of regulatory proposals from tribal groups that are 
interested in working cooperatively for the benefit of waterfowl and 
other migratory game birds. We encourage Tribes to work with us to 
develop agreements for management of migratory bird resources on tribal 
lands. Following submission of tribal proposals and review of proposals 
and population status information, proposed and final rules are 
published in a subsequent series of Federal Register documents. Similar 
to the establishment of the sport-hunting regulations, regulations are 
established for early-season and late-season hunting.

The Alaska Subsistence Process

    In 1916, the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) 
signed the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada 
and the United States (Canada Treaty). In 1936, the United States and 
Mexico signed the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and 
Game Mammals (Mexico Treaty). In combination, the treaties prohibited 
all commercial bird hunting and specified a closed season on the taking 
of migratory game birds between March 10 and September 1 of each year. 
Additionally, and unfortunately, neither treaty adequately allowed for 
the traditional harvest of migratory birds by northern peoples during 
the spring and summer months. This harvest, which has occurred for 
centuries, was and is necessary to the subsistence way of life in the 
North and thus continued despite the closed season.
    To remedy this situation, the United States negotiated Protocols 
amending the treaties to allow for subsistence harvest of migratory 
birds by indigenous inhabitants of identified subsistence harvest areas 
in Alaska. The U.S. Senate approved the amendments to both treaties in 
    The major goals of the amended treaty with Canada were to allow 
traditional subsistence harvest and improve conservation of migratory 
birds by allowing effective regulation of this harvest. The amended 
treaty with Canada provides a means to allow permanent residents of 
villages within subsistence harvest areas, regardless of race, to 
continue harvesting migratory birds between March 10 and September 1 as 
they have done for thousands of years.
    In 1998, we began a public involvement process to determine how to 
structure management bodies to provide the most effective and efficient 
involvement for subsistence users. This process was concluded on March 
28, 2000, when we published in the Federal Register (65 FR 16405) the 
Notice of Decision: ``Establishment of Management Bodies in Alaska to 
Develop Recommendations Related to the Spring/Summer Subsistence 
Harvest of Migratory Birds.'' This notice described the establishment 
and organization of 12 regional management bodies plus the Alaska 
Migratory Bird Co-management Council (Co-management Council).
    Establishment of a migratory bird subsistence harvest began on 
August 16, 2002, when we published in the Federal Register (67 FR 
53511) a final rule at 50 CFR part 92 that set procedures for 
incorporating subsistence management into the continental migratory 
bird management program. These regulations established an annual 
procedure to develop harvest guidelines to implement a subsistence 
migratory bird harvest.
    The first subsistence migratory bird harvest system was finalized 
on July 21, 2003, when we published in the Federal Register (68 FR 
43010) a final rule at 50 CFR parts 20, 21, and 92 that created the 
first annual harvest regulations for the 2003 subsistence migratory 
bird season in Alaska. These annual frameworks were not intended to be 
a complete, all-inclusive set of regulations, but were intended to 
regulate continuation of customary and traditional subsistence uses of 
migratory birds in Alaska during the spring and summer. See the August 
16, 2002, July 21, 2003, and April 2, 2004 (69 FR 17318), final rules 
for additional background information on the subsistence harvest 
program for migratory birds in Alaska.

Past NEPA Considerations--1975 EIS and 1988 SEIS

    Migratory bird hunting is an activity of considerable ecological 
and socio-economic importance. Recent analyses indicate that the 
expected welfare benefit of the annual migratory bird hunting 
frameworks is on the order of $734 million to $1.064 billion. Further, 
we estimated that migratory bird hunters would spend between $481 
million and $1.2 billion at small businesses in 2004.
    In June 1975, we published a programmatic document, ``Final 
Environmental Statement for Issuance of Annual Regulations Permitting 
the Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds (FES 75-54).'' The continuation of 
annual regulations was the proposed action and the preferred 
alternative. In 1988, we published an additional programmatic document, 
``Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Issuance of Annual 
Regulations Permitting the Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds (FSES 88-
14),'' filed with the Environmental Protection Agency on June 9, 1988. 
We published a Notice of Availability in the Federal Register on June 
16, 1988 (53 FR 22582) and our Record of Decision on August 18, 1988 
(53 FR 31341). The 1988 SEIS maintained the proposed action of issuing 
annual migratory bird hunting regulations. The Service's preferred 
alternative in the 1988 SEIS was to stabilize the so-called 
``framework'' regulations (outside dates, season lengths, and limits) 
for fixed periods of time, subject to annual review and possible change 
according to population status; and to control the use of ``special'' 
regulations (e.g., special seasons).
    Since 1988, a number of developments have occurred. The status of 
some migratory bird populations has changed significantly. Advances in 
the collection and interpretation of data have been made, including 
expansion of breeding-ground waterfowl surveys and implementation of 

the Harvest Information Program. Adaptive Harvest

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Management is now used as an approach for setting duck-hunting 
regulations in the United States and provides a framework for making 
objective decisions despite continued uncertainty about waterfowl 
population dynamics and regulatory impacts. The Alaska migratory bird 
subsistence regulations have been in existence since 2003. These 
developments and others make it desirable to supplement the preceding 
EIS documents and reexamine some of the issues associated with the 
issuance of annual regulations.

Issue Resolution and Environmental Review

    We intend to develop a supplemental EIS on the ``Issuance of Annual 
Regulations Permitting the Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds,'' 
beginning the process with this announcement. Federal and State 
agencies, private conservation organizations, and all other interested 
parties and individuals are invited to participate in the process by 
presenting their views on the subject. We seek suggestions and comments 
regarding the scope and substance of this supplemental EIS, particular 
issues to be addressed and why, and options or alternatives to be 
considered. In particular, in regard to the scope and substance of this 
supplemental EIS, we seek comments on the following:
    (1) Harvest management alternatives for migratory game birds to be 
    (2) Limiting the scope of the assessment to sport hunting (i.e., 
exclusion of the Alaska migratory bird subsistence process), and
    (3) Inclusion of basic regulations (methods and means).
    Comments should be forwarded to the above address by the deadline 
indicated. We will conduct the development of this supplemental EIS in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act of 1969 as amended (42 U.S.C. 4371 et seq.), other appropriate 
federal regulations, and Service procedures for compliance with those 
regulations. We are furnishing this Notice in accordance with 40 CFR 
1501.7, to obtain suggestions and information from other agencies, 
tribes, and the public on the scope of issues to be addressed in the 
supplemental EIS.

Public Scoping Meetings

    A schedule of public scoping meeting dates, locations, and times is 
not available at this time. We will publish a notice of any such 
meetings in the Federal Register.

    Dated: August 24, 2005.
Matt Hogan,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 05-17798 Filed 9-7-05; 8:45 am]