How Regulations Are Set

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How Regulations Are Set

Waterfowl hunter in blind with blue-winged tealIn 2015 the Service is implementing a new regulations-setting process. The early and late season regulatory actions will be combined into a single process during which all annual migratory bird hunting seasons will be established at the same time. Regulatory recommendations will be developed during the fall for the following year’s hunting seasons, and the hunting regulations will all be published by early summer. This single process means the season frameworks (e.g., outside dates, season lengths, bag limits) will be finalized and state agencies can select and publish their season dates in early summer.

Overview of the Regulatory Process

Migratory game bird management in the United States is a cooperative effort of state and federal governments. For waterfowl management, for example, the U.S. and Canada are divided into four flyways; the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific. In the U.S., the Flyway Councils, consisting of representatives from state and provincial game-management agencies, recommend regulations to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) for waterfowl and for most migratory, shore, and upland game birds.

The Councils are advised by flyway technical committees consisting of state and provincial biologists. These technical committees evaluate species and population status, harvest, and hunter-participation data during the development of the Council recommendations.

The Service's Migratory Bird program, with advice from biologists in the Service's Regional Offices, evaluates the Council recommendations, considering species status and biology, cumulative effects of regulations, and existing regulatory policy. The Service develops migratory bird hunting regulations by establishing the frameworks, or outside limits, for season lengths, season dates, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting and makes recommendations to the Service's Regulations Committee, which consists of members of the Service Directorate.

The Service Regulations Committee considers both the Council and Migratory Bird program recommendations, and then forwards its recommendations for annual regulations to the Director of the Service.

Once regulatory proposals are approved, they are published in the Federal Register for public comment. After the comment period, final regulations are developed, final approval is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Interior.

Quest Kodiak plane used to fly waterfowl surveys..

Quest Kodiak plane used to fly waterfowl surveys. Photo by W. Rhodes, US FWS

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What are “early season” migratory bird hunting regulations?

A. Early seasons are generally those that begin before the last week in September and pertain to species or groups including doves and pigeons, American woodcock, rails, gallinules, cranes, snipe, sea ducks, some early-migrating duck species, as well as all migratory game bird seasons in Alaska, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. September Canada goose seasons also fit into this category.

Q. What are “late season” migratory bird hunting regulations?

A. Late seasons generally start during or after the last week in September and include other migratory game bird hunting seasons, primarily for ducks, geese, and swans, that were not already established during the early seasons regulations process.

Q. Why did the Service combine the early and late Seasons regulations development cycles into a single cycle?

A. It has become increasingly difficult to complete the legal and administrative steps required to finalize and publish migratory bird hunting regulations by the dates States want to open their seasons, especially for late seasons. In 2013, the Service published a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that analyzed several alternatives for setting migratory bird hunting regulations and concluded that combining the early and late season processes into a single process as the best alternative available to address this problem.

Q. How does the combined process affect when the public and States provide input?

A. As always, the public has the opportunity to comment on all Federal proposals, which are published shortly after preliminary decisions by the Service have been made. This process provides long timeframes for the public to comment on proposals because the entire regulations process begins in the previous fall. Each State has its own system for soliciting input from their constituents and for determining public meeting schedules. We recommend contacting State agencies to determine how their process will be altered.

Q. Does the combined process result in more conservative (that is, restrictive) hunting regulations?

A. For most migratory game bird species we have over 50 years of data from population surveys, banding, and harvest surveys that have been used to develop models and harvest strategies to predict population change and inform harvest management decisions. These frameworks have been adjusted to inform harvest regulations based on the previous year’s monitoring information and regulatory decision.

Basing decisions on the previous year’s monitoring information and regulatory decision will not result in appreciable increases in risk. Simulations comparing harvest management performance based on current or previous year’s monitoring data suggest that in almost all cases the new process will not make the regulations more restrictive. For those species where we have less data, the Service likely will continue to follow a more conservative approach to harvest management, as it does now, to reduce the likelihood that hunting would have a negative impact on the species. Species that have relatively small populations that may be sensitive to overharvest, such as Brant, may be the exceptions.

Q. What if habitat or population conditions drastically change after the seasons have already been set (e.g abnormally dry or wet spring in production areas)?

A. The Service proposes that during the implementation period, the Service and Flyway Councils, with appropriate public input, will define what circumstances, if any, warrant changing the regulations after they have been established for a given year. A collaborative effort will be made to develop a process that details how these changes would be effected and implemented, if it was determined that circumstances warranted changing regulations. The belief of the Service is that such changes should be considered only in extreme situations and such occurrences should not be frequently considered, if at all.