New rules on waterfowl, baiting eyed



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes to change its regulations on migratory bird hunting and baiting. According to USFWS officials, the changes proposed Thursday will help ensure the long-term conservation of migratory birds, especially waterfowl.

"These proposed changes are the result of an exhaustive review of baiting regulations, during which we have received a great deal of input from state fish and wildlife agencies and the public, including hunters and conservation groups," said USFWS director Jamie Rappaport Clark.

Baiting is defined by USFWS as "the practice of placing, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering any salt, grain or other feed on or over areas where hunters are attempting to take birds."

The proposed changes, Clark said, will clarify the rules so hunters will know what is allowed when they take the field.

Overall, the proposals clarify the conditions under which hunting over mowed or otherwise manipulated vegetation is legal, establish separate rules for areas of natural vegetation and agricultural areas and empower the U.S. Department of Agriculture to define "normal agricultural and soil stabilization practices."

Waterfowl hunting would be allowed over natural vegetation that has been mowed or manipulated to benefit migratory birds, as long as the manipulation takes place at least 10 days before the start of any waterfowl season and is discontinued through open waterfowl seasons.

According to USFWS, there would be no restriction on manipulating natural vegetation and hunting migratory game species other than waterfowl and cranes (in states that have seasons for cranes) .

By changing rules regarding natural vegetation manipulation, USFWS expects increased conservation of moist soil areas or wet lands, which will benefit migratory birds and waterfowl through improved habitat.

Natural vegetation is defined as non-agricultural, native or naturalized plant species, such as millet, that grows at a site in response to planting or from existing seeds. Millet, which can be an agricultural crop or a moist-soil management tool, is included among natural vegetation because of its importance as a food source for migratory birds.

"The additional areas of natural vegetation that are expected to be preserved because of the proposed changes will benefit waterfowl and other migratory birds," said Clark.

"Advances in wetlands habitat management in recent years have improved land managers' abilities to enhance winter habitat for waterfowl and other species by providing high-quality natural foods."

By creating separate rules for agricultural lands and areas of natural vegetation, USFWS expects to more clearly define legal hunting practices over agricultural areas.

USDA state specialists would be empowered to define "normal agricultural and soil stabilization practices," and hunting would be allowed over a farmed field that has been worked within those parameters.

Under current regulations, agricultural activity is defined differently in relation to various migratory species. One definition is expected to make the regulations more uniform and clear.

In the case of fields that have been planted by top sowing and the seeds left on the ground, how ever, hunting for any migratory birds would be prohibited until 10 days after the seed has been removed from the ground.

The 10-day rule, which bans hunting at any baited area until 10 days after the seed or grain has been removed from the ground, would be continued.

USFWS also will continue its "strict liability" regulations that allow hunters to be cited for hunting over baited areas, regardless of whether they knew about the baiting or intended to break the law.

Pub Date: 3/29/98

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