For Immediate Release
June 4, 1999

Contact: Tom MacKenzie
Chris Tollefson


In a move that will promote migratory bird habitat restoration efforts and make it easier for hunters to comply with federal and state regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is revising regulations governing migratory game bird baiting for the first time in more than 25 years.

The Service published a final rule in the June 3, 1999 Federal Register that will allow the hunting of all migratory game birds over natural vegetation that has been mowed, tilled, or manipulated in other ways. The rule gives landowners the flexibility to maintain, develop, manage, and hunt wetland habitat essential for migratory birds without fear of violating federal regulations that prohibit hunting over areas where seed or other feed has been exposed or scattered.

"Wetland conservation on private lands is essential to the long-term survival and growth of waterfowl and other migratory bird populations in North America. This change will provide additional habitat for birds and increase opportunities for hunting over restored and enhanced wetlands, a crucial incentive for landowners that benefits a wide range of species," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark.

More than half of the original wetlands in the United States have been lost, and many of the remaining wetlands are degraded. Loss of habitat is the leading threat to the Nation's migratory birds and the Service has worked to halt that loss by promoting both public and private wetland conservation projects.

In recent years, however, especially in the Gulf Coast region, wetland restoration efforts on private lands have been hampered by existing regulations that prohibit hunting if seeds have been exposed or scattered. Such scattering can result from many common land management practices used to create and maintain wetlands--as, for example, when brush is cleared from overgrown wetlands to provide habitat for wintering waterfowl.

Because the average growing season in the Gulf Coast states often exceeds 280 days, such clearing may be necessary to prevent wetlands from becoming overgrown with rank vegetation. In the past, keeping these wetlands clear (and attractive to waterfowl and other migratory birds) might have made them off limits for hunting.

After a comprehensive review of hundreds of comments from citizens, state agencies, flyway councils and other organizations, the Service has revised its regulations to permit the hunting of any migratory game bird over natural vegetation manipulated at any time. This change recognizes the need to allow the necessary management of these areas to benefit migratory birds while still providing hunting opportunities.

The new rule seeks to eliminate past public confusion about the types of activities considered to be baiting. Hunters will now have assurance that the inadvertent scattering of seed from standing or flooded standing crops when they enter or leave a hunting area, place decoys, or retrieve downed birds does not constitute illegal baiting. The rule also allows the use of natural or agricultural vegetation to conceal hunting blinds, provided hunters do not expose or scatter seed or grain when making blinds in agricultural fields.

On agricultural lands, the rule maintains a distinction between land management practices allowable for the hunting of all migratory game birds and those practices allowed for hunting birds such as doves and pigeons but not permitted for waterfowl, cranes, and coots. The rule provides definitions for these different land management practices.

Although the Service had considered prohibiting hunting migratory game birds over top-sown fields, the new rule continues to allow hunting over top-sown seeds that are present as a result of a normal agricultural planting. It also authorizes hunting over seeds top-sown as part of a normal soil stabilization practice. The definition of normal soil stabilization practice includes plantings intended to reclaim surface-mined lands as well as measures to control agricultural soil erosion.

The rule incorporates the Service policy of relying on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to define the agricultural activities and soil stabilization measures considered normal in a given area. By relying on U.S. Department of Agriculture state extension specialists as authorities on agricultural issues, the Service, in cooperation with the state fish and wildlife agencies, will use a reliable and consistent source of guidance for making determinations about the legality of hunting over agricultural areas

Last October, a new public law was passed that eliminated strict liability for baiting offenses and instead made it unlawful for anyone to hunt with the aid of bait ". . . if the person knows or reasonably should know . . ." that an area is baited. This law has been in effect for much of the 1999 migratory bird hunting season. The new rule incorporates this change.

The Service began a review of various wildlife regulations in 1991 and published its intent to review the migratory bird regulations in 1993. In 1996, the Service announced its intention to review baiting regulations separately from other regulations dealing with migratory birds. At that time, the agency specified that it planned to address issues involving migratory bird habitat conservation practices such as moist-soil management.

The Service has received extensive public comments on the migratory bird regulations. In addition, in 1996, the Service asked the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a professional organization representing all 50 state fish and wildlife agencies, to review waterfowl baiting issues related to management of moist-soil areas of natural vegetation and make recommendations. The Service received those recommendations in May 1997 and incorporated some of them into the final rule.

"The rule gives clear guidance to hunters and landowners about when and where hunting is allowed while eliminating the need for subjective determinations about the legitimacy of agricultural practices. Everyone will find it easier to conserve and enjoy wetlands once it is in place," Clark said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management 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.





The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new rule and Public Law 105-312, which went into effect last fall, both change Federal migratory game bird hunting regulations that govern baiting. All of these changes will be in force for the 1999-2000 hunting season. States, however, may adopt stricter rules, so hunters should check with state game agencies before going afield.

Under these new measures, unless prohibited by state law, hunters MAY:

o Hunt ALL migratory game birds, including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, over natural vegetation that has been mowed or manipulated in other ways. There is no restriction on when manipulation may occur.

o Hunt ALL migratory game birds, including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, where seeds or grains have been scattered solely as the result of "normal agricultural planting, harvesting, post-harvest manipulation, or normal soil stabilization practice." Agricultural practices for hunting are limited to those undertaken to produce and gather a crop and manage the field afterwards.

o Hunt ALL migratory game birds, including waterfowl, coots, and cranes, over surface-mined lands being reclaimed where seeds or grains are scattered solely as a result of normal soil stabilization practice.

o Hunt migratory game birds EXCEPT WATERFOWL, COOTS, AND CRANES where grain or other feed has been distributed or scattered solely as the result of the manipulation of an agricultural crop or as the result of a "normal agricultural operation." The latter term applies to planting, harvesting, and post-harvest manipulation but also encompasses farming practices related to livestock management.

o Use natural vegetation to conceal a blind.

o Use vegetation from agricultural crops to conceal a blind provided they do not expose, deposit, distribute, or scatter grain or other feed in the process.

o Continue hunting over standing or flooded standing agricultural crops if they inadvertently scatter grain solely as a result of entering or leaving the field, placing decoys, or retrieving downed birds.

o As in the past, hunt ALL migratory game birds over standing crops, standing flooded crops, and flooded harvested croplands.

o Be charged with hunting over bait if they "know or reasonably should know" that the area is baited.

o Be fined up to $15,000 and spend 6 months in jail if convicted of hunting over bait.

o Be fined up to $100,000 as an individual or $200,000 as an organization and spend 1 year in prison if convicted of placing bait.

With respect to Federal prohibitions, hunters should remember that they MAY NOT:

o Place, expose, deposit, distribute, or scatter salt, grain, or other feed that could lure or attract birds to, on, or over an area where hunters are attempting to take them.

o Hunt migratory game birds with the aid of bait, or on or over any baited area.

o Hunt over any baited area until 10 days after all salt, grain, or other feed has been completely removed.

o Hunt waterfowl, coots, and cranes over manipulated planted millet. Planted millet is NOT considered natural vegetation unless it becomes naturalized and grows on its own in subsequent years.

o Hunt waterfowl, coots, or cranes over seed or grain from manipulated agricultural crops or normal agricultural operations except where seed or grain is present solely as a result of normal planting, harvesting, or post-harvest manipulation or normal soil stabilization practice.

o Hunt migratory game birds if the use of vegetation from agricultural crops to conceal a blind exposes, deposits, distributes, or scatters grain or other feed.

Hunters should also remember that:

o They are responsible for ensuring that the hunting area has not been baited before they start hunting.

o They should physically inspect the field or marsh; question landowners, guides, and caretakers; and take other reasonable steps to verify the legality of the hunting area.

o They must know and obey all applicable Federal and state hunting regulations.

o When making agricultural determinations, the Fish and Wildlife Service relies on the official recommendations of state extension specialists of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative Extension Service.


Release #:R99-052

1999 News Releases

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