USFWS withdraws proposed duck hunting changes

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is withdrawing a proposal made last month to modify duck hunting season frameworks for six states in the lower Mississippi Flyway. Accordingly, frameworks for the 2001-2002 season will remain unchanged from those approved by the Service on September 27.

On October 11, the Service published in the Federal Register a proposed rule that would modify the final regulatory alternatives for the 2001-02 duck hunting seasons for states in the Lower Region (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee) of the Mississippi Flyway to allow for a season length of 60 days beginning no earlier than September 29 and ending no later than January 31, 2002.

The proposal eliminated a 9-day reduction in season length imposed by the Service in 1998 to offset any additional duck harvest gained by those states that chose to extend their season to January 31. The comment period for that proposal closed on October 26.

After evaluating public comments, the Service determined that issues raised by the framework extension proposal warrant further evaluation that cannot be resolved prior to the imminent start of the duck season. As a result, the Service proposes to continue to work with State wildlife agencies, Flyway Councils and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies to resolve this issue within the framework development process for the 2002-2003 hunting season.

"The Service is working to resolve this issue within an established regulations development process that involves all affected interests and ensures the long-term health of duck populations," said Tom Melius, assistant director for Migratory Birds and State Programs.

The Service plans to meet in early December with a newly-formed working group established by the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, representing a cross-section of all Flyway Councils and states, in order to develop a proposal for framework extensions for the 2002-2003 season. At this meeting, the Service will propose that the group consider incorporating key elements of a 2001 National Flyway Council recommendation.

Last summer, the Council proposed to give all states a framework opening date of the Saturday nearest September 24 and a closing date of the last Sunday in January, with no offsets in days or bag limits, if duck population and habitat conditions warrant selection of "moderate" or "liberal" harvest alternatives.

The Service is committed to monitoring and evaluating the impact of any potential framework changes on duck harvests and populations within the current adaptive harvest management approach. Increases in harvest associated with framework extensions will likely result in an increase in the frequency of more conservative regulations. Successful implementation of any revised framework dates for the 2002-03 hunting season will require an expanded monitoring program for North American waterfowl, including the initiation of a band reporting rate study in 2002 that will provide better estimates of harvest rates for mallards and other important waterfowl species. In addition, the Service will continue efforts to improve the national harvest survey and enhance aircraft survey capabilities.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource 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.

- FWS -
 

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