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Setting the Hunting Season

An in-depth look at the complex, science-based process that safeguards waterfowl populations while maximizing hunting opportunity
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The Home Stretch

Following the same process that took place for early seasons, the SRC forwards its recommendations for late-season frameworks to the USFWS director and then to the secretary of interior. The proposed frameworks are published in the Federal Register for public comment, and the final frameworks are issued in mid-September.

After establishment of the new framework, the final step is for each state to set its waterfowl season within the guidelines issued by the USFWS. Many state wildlife commissions hold public hearings to gather local comments. Then they choose specific dates, bag limits, shooting hours, and other variables that come with a local option. States may set a more conservative season than that offered under the federal framework (fewer ducks in the bag, fewer hens, a shorter season, etc.), but they can never set a more liberal season.

Each state then sends a "selection letter" back to the USFWS, notifying the federal agency of the state's choice of dates, bag limits, etc. When all selection letters are received, the USFWS publishes all states' seasons in the Federal Register, and hunting may commence.

The Years Roll By

Setting each year's waterfowl regulations is a long, laborious process that extends from January through September and involves the efforts of scores of wildlife professionals. It requires tens of thousands of man-hours of work. It endures the weight of government regulation, and it incorporates the latest and best in management technology.

And it works. Seasons click by, one after another, year after year. Hunters accept new regulations sometimes with glee, sometimes with grumbling, and generally with little understanding of how the seasons and bag limits came into being.

But because of this process, duck hunters can continue to hunt with the assurance that the waterfowl resource is being protected, that hunting opportunity is maximized relative to the health of the resource, and that many dedicated professionals are working to ensure that waterfowl and the traditions they engender live on. It's about the birds. It's a giant effort and a labor of love.

50 Years and Still Counting

2005 marked the 50th anniversary of the North American waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey, the world's most comprehensive and longest-running wildlife population survey. The U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey—forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)—initiated aerial waterfowl counts during the 1930s. Biologists typically conducted these early surveys aboard military aircraft or chartered private planes. After World War II, the USFWS acquired its own fleet of surplus military aircraft and hired a corps of fulltime pilot-biologists, many of whom received their flight training in the military.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, USFWS pilot-biologists and their colleagues working on the ground began a series of experimental spring waterfowl surveys on important breeding areas in the United States and Canada. In 1955, the USFWS and its partners launched the first comprehensive waterfowl breeding population and habitat survey of North America. The information collected during this annual survey has been the bedrock of waterfowl management ever since.


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