Changes Delay Breeding Grounds Survey Results

Letter from the CEO

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Photo © Laurie Dirkx

As you begin to go through this issue of Ducks Unlimited magazine, you will likely notice that a very important article that normally appears this time of year is missing. The September/October issue has historically received great interest because that's when we have been able to provide you with the results of the breeding grounds survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) with the assistance of the states, Canadian government, Ducks Unlimited, and others. But starting this year, there has been a change in the timing of the results, and they were not available when this issue of the magazine went to press.

The breeding grounds survey began in 1955 and has been conducted essentially the same way each year since then. By the same way, I mean the same transects are flown across the northern United States and all across Canada during May and early June at the same altitude, and birds are identified and counted by pilot biologists (not computer programs). Along with counting the number of birds (by species) engaged in nesting, biologists also count the number of "ponds," or wetlands capable of supporting pairs in the spring and fledgling growth and development later in the breeding season. A combination of the bird counts and pond counts are entered into the computations that allow the USFWS director to recommend our hunting season as liberal, moderate, or restrictive. Along with each of these designations there are preset numbers of hunting days in each flyway, numbers of birds that may be taken, and other necessary measures to ensure the long-term success of our beloved waterfowl, as well as our treasured ability to enjoy them in our blinds.

The USFWS notifies the states in each flyway of the results of the survey, which are used to determine the season length (days that can be hunted), bag limits by species, and the latest full weekend in January that a state may allow hunting during the regular season. This information was historically provided soon after the survey was completed, and the states were able to choose their seasons shortly thereafter. The federally mandated timetable for regulations setting, however, ran right up against legal and administrative deadlines in recent years, potentially delaying the opening of waterfowl seasons. A new regulations-setting process was developed to resolve this growing concern.

For the hunting season that begins shortly after the arrival of this magazine, the seasons were set months ago, and we will enjoy another liberal hunting season, just as we have been blessed to have for more than 20 years without a single moderate or restrictive season. But that decision was not made the same way it has traditionally been made.

Across the United States, but particularly in the northern parts of our great nation where the hunting seasons begin in September and typically end by November, the states can now give their hunters more advance notice of the waterfowl hunting seasons and any restrictions that might apply to certain species. Upcoming hunting seasons will continue to be set much earlier but will be based on the previous year's counts, rather than the current year's survey results. What this means is that we still need to pay particular attention to the results of the survey, not for this year's hunting season, but for next year's season. Enjoy your hunting season, be safe, and visit ducks.org to see the 2016 survey results. Happy hunting!

Dale Hall,
Chief Executive Officer