So far, so good for 3-year experimental early teal season
MADISON, Wis. — Data from a three-year experimental early teal season from 2014-16 in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan show exemplary compliance, duck identification and harvest focus among hunters.
After working closely with state agencies to evaluate harvest potential, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service authorized implementation of early teal seasons in 2014 on an experimental basis in Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan. Following public input processes, each state established an early teal season based on biological and social factors, with an additional focus placed upon communication and hunter education materials with an initial experimental period lasting three years.
USFWS required these states to jointly conduct and report findings in each of the experimental period’s first three years. The report is now available, and results show that hunter harvest was focused on desired teal ducks.
To help evaluate compliance and duck identification, trained observers from each state observed duck flights and hunter behavior during teal hunting seasons. In total, 88 trained observers evaluated the performance of 425 hunting parties over the length of the experiment to generate statistically valid conclusions.
In all three states combined, a total of 1,596 non-teal duck flocks came within range of hunting parties, with only 88 fired upon, resulting in a non-target attempt rate of roughly 5.5 percent. This was well below the threshold deemed necessary by USFWS to protect other duck species not targeted by this early season.
“The early teal season experiment has provided Wisconsin hunters with a new opportunity and these results give us confidence that if Wisconsin hunters decide to continue this season it will be conducted responsibly and without causing harm to the resource,” said Taylor Finger, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources assistant migratory game bird ecologist.
Michigan and Wisconsin both held statewide September teal seasons from Sept. 1-7 in 2014-2016. Iowa held 16 day statewide seasons, excluding North and South zones, which had nine-day seasons in 2016 (season dates varied by year).
Blue-winged teal are an early migrating duck, so many teal have left prior to opening day of regular duck hunting seasons. As a result, USFWS approved special early teal hunting seasons for some states in the 1960’s. Four states within the Mississippi Flyway (Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota) were excluded initially, due to concerns that hunters would harvest too many non-teal ducks.
However, recent record-high duck populations and a desire for more equitable harvest opportunity distribution led to analyses of the potential for adding an operational early teal seasons in additional states.
The federal regulatory cycle required the Mississippi Flyway states to be granted a one-year extension of experimental season framework for the 2017 waterfowl season. Since USFWS required a final report regarding the results of the experiment, these states agreed to hold a fourth early teal season under that same structure as the experimental season to provide adequate time to complete a final report.
Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin are confident that experimental teal seasons met federal requirements and that the fourth year should not require any additional monitoring. Thus, this additional season may not be included in the analysis that USFWS uses to decide whether an operational teal season will be offered starting in 2018.
If states are offered operation status, a public input process will occur in 2017 to decide whether we move forward with an operational early teal season in the future.