Proposal for lower flyway angers DNR

Editor

St. Paul A proposal on the Federal Register last week offering
the full 60-day waterfowl season for six Southern states in the
lower part of the Mississippi Flyway has drawn an angry response
from Minnesota wildlife managers and waterfowlers.

“This is completely outside the normal regulatory process for
setting migratory bird seasons,” said Tim Bremicker, DNR Division
of Wildlife director. “To propose a change of this magnitude when
the northern states already have their season open is
outrageous.”

The proposal appeared on the Federal Register on Thursday, Oct.
11. The change would allow six states Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky,
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee to set duck seasons of 60
days ending as late as Jan. 31.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the final duck
season frameworks in late September allowing the Jan. 31 closing
date for only three states Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. If
they chose the later season dates, they also had to accept a
nine-day penalty in season length. The shorter, 51-day season, was
intended to offset the extra harvest that would occur during the
later shooting days.

But in a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton dated Sept.
12, members of Mississippi’s congressional delegation made their
case for the full 60-day season. The letter was signed by both of
Mississippi’s senators, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, and two state
congressmen, Roger Wicker, R-1st, and Chip Pickering, R-3rd.

“we are concerned about the magnitude of the nine-day offset
proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” the letter says.
“Since the majority of mallards that winter in Mississippi arrive
after Jan. 1 each year, the offset is not consistent with the
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Therefore, we feel we have not been
given due consideration of times and lines of migratory flight’ or
zones of temperature.’

“We request that you re-evaluate the offset for Mississippi so
that our season is consistent with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,
and we are not penalized for the 2001-2002 season.”

Driven by Mississippi, southern states have wanted to hunt ducks
later into the winter for several years. Trent Lott, the former
Senate majority leader from Mississippi, has led the charge. In
1998, Lott was successful at attaching language on a budget bill
that allowed southern Mississippi Flyway states to hunt later in
January. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service then allowed a later
framework, but with a nine-day reduction in total duck season
length. The states of Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee selected
the option, and have been allowed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service to continue since then.

Messages to Lott’s Washington and Mississippi offices on Monday
from Outdoor News were not returned as of Tuesday.

The Fish and Wildlife Service offered little explanation for the
proposal in the Federal Register, simply stating: “Upon
reconsideration, the Service proposes to change the previously
established liberal’ alternative for the Lower Region of the
Mississippi Flyway to provide for a framework opening date no
earlier than Sept. 29 and a closing date no later than Jan. 31,
with no reduction (offset) in season length or bag limit. We will
announce a final regulatory alternative for the Lower Region of the
Mississippi Flyway following the public comment period.”

Chris Tollefson, a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service in Washington D.C. said the agency had no comment on the
proposal beyond what exists in the Federal Register, and “I
wouldn’t anticipate any statement forthcoming.”

He stressed that the agency has not made any decision on the
proposal and will not until after it reviews public comments. He
expects the agency to make a decision on the matter by
mid-November.

Bremicker said the Minnesota DNR has opposed season extension
proposals on the front-end of the season for northern states in the
flyway and the back end for southern states. Season extensions
quite simply mean more dead ducks, and ultimately could result in
shorter seasons flyway-wide, he said.

“This is not in long-term interest of ducks and duck hunting.
This is not a no-cost alternative,” Bremicker said. “Those ducks
have to come from someplace.”

The Minnesota DNR has implemented a new waterfowl management
strategy in the state to try and boost waterfowl numbers and
harvest back to mid-1970s levels when the state killed about 15
percent of the Mississippi Flyway’s total harvest. That number has
dropped to about 9 percent in recent years, with much of the lost
harvest going to southern flyway states.

Last year, Mississippi hunters harvested a record number of
ducks, and for the first time since record keeping began in the
early 1960s, Mississippi harvested more ducks than hunters did in
Minnesota.

“Now here’s another proposal from those states to shift even
more advantage to lower regulation states. These states already
have gained measurably in terms of harvest in the past decade,”
Bremicker said. “It’s outrageous in light of how we’ve slipped in
total harvest.”

The Minnesota DNR offered the following address to direct
comments to: Jon Andrew, Chief, Division of Migratory Bird
Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dept. of Interior, ms
634-ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. You can also fax
comments to (713) 358-2272 (attn: Jon Andrew) or e-mail them to
jon_andrew@fws.gov

To see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal in its
entirety, go to the USFWS website at . Click and follow the Federal
Register links to proposed rules under “Migratory Bird Hunting.”
The proposal is listed as “Seasons, limits, and shooting hours;
establishment, etc.” No. 51919-51921.

Bremicker called Mississippi’s actions “divisive” and said it
undermines migratory bird management in the United States.

“We have seen some ugly things regarding the politics of
waterfowl regulations in recent years, but this is a new low for
the special interests that have influenced the Fish and Wildlife
Service to propose this change,” he said. “Duck seasons have been
selected and published for all states, including the Southern
states, but the politics to benefit Southern waterfowl hunters at
the expense of ducks and waterfowl hunters in other states
continues.”

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