USFWS has duck input in sights


March 30, 1995|By PETER BAKER

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken a look at the way duck hunting seasons and bag limits are set and has decided to try to make the process more user friendly.

Under proposals released earlier this week, options for the 1995-1996 duck seasons would be limited to one of three packages, with an eye toward maintaining consistency, objectivity and predictability in the regulatory process.

"In the past, hunters often have become confused by the complexity of the regulatory process, a lack of clearly stated harvest-management objectives and an overly large number of regulatory options," said Mollie Beattie, director of the USFWS.

"The new procedures will clarify the process and make it far more objective and predictable."

The three packages or options that will be available in flyways across the country are liberal, moderate and restrictive, and each is based on previous time spans and previous seasonal parameters.

The liberal options would be similar to guidelines used for the 1979-1984 seasons. The moderate option would be similar to regulations for the 1985-1987 seasons, and the restrictive option would resemble the limitations in effect from 1988 to 1993.

Under the proposed changes, the option chosen for 1995-1996 would be determined through a formula that weighs current resource status -- including duck populations and habitat conditions determined by the annual breeding duck survey -- with the management goals set by USFWS, the four flyway councils and state natural resources agencies.

The daily bag limits for each option in the Atlantic Flyway would range from three to five, and season length could range from 30 to 50 days.

According to the USFWS, the 1995-1996 season probably would not be more restrictive than last year, and based on technical assessment of kill numbers, further relaxation of regulations may be possible this year without an adverse impact on the long-term growth of duck populations.

The overall objective is to balance maximum hunting opportunity with the duck population and habitat goals established by the North American Waterfowl Management Plan.

The simplification of options open to waterfowl managers and hunters annually is meant to get both biologists and user groups involved in the annual process earlier than in past years.

One of the reasons behind the proposed change is that experts disagree over how much impact hunting has on duck population. The USFWS is hopeful that the new options and procedures -- and the extra time a streamlined process will give waterfowl managers -- finally may allow the impact of hunters on duck populations to be determined.

"The proposal for the 1995-1996 season represents a first step toward implementing the concept of adaptive harvest management, which, in the long term, will help us effectively manage this resource," said Paul Schmidt, chief of USFWS's Migratory Bird Management Office.

"It is important that everyone involved in the process of setting these regulations -- the flyway councils, the states and the Service -- have a clear concept of what options are on the table and the impact each will have on duck populations," Beattie said.

"At the same time, hunters have a right to a clear idea of what the regulations for each season are and why they were adopted."

The proposed changes are open to public comment, and written comment should be mailed to Chief (MBMO), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 634 Arlington Square, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240.

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