Madison The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) caught
waterfowlers by surprise on Oct. 11, when the FWS announced in the
Federal Register that it intends to give six southern states a
last-minute duck season extension.
Wisconsin waterfowl hunters and conservation groups have until
only Friday, Oct. 26 to submit comments on this proposal.
“We’ll send a strong letter to the FWS opposing this move,” said
Jon Bergquist, Wisconsin DNR waterfowl ecologist. Bergquist drafted
a letter Oct. 18, but it was not approved for release until after
deadline for this issue. “This proposal does not follow the process
that the FWS has used in the past to set waterfowl season
frameworks. I would hope that the FWS waits for one year to allow
flyway councils to come together on this,” he said.
Bergquist represents Wisconsin as a member of the Mississippi
Flyway Council. This council works with the FWS to set waterfowl
season frameworks each year. That work begins in May, with the
frameworks typically set in place by late July or early August.
Bergquist hinted that some unusual political pressure must have
forced FWS officials to consider this last-minute change to the
southern states’ duck hunting season.
That pressure appears to be coming directly from Mississippi
Sen. Trent Lott and the Mississippi congressional delegation, based
on a copy of a Sept. 12 letter obtained by Wisconsin Outdoor News.
The Mississippi delegation sent a letter to Gale Norton, Department
of Interior secretary, asking for a season extension to Jan.
“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 that we have not
been given due consideration of times and lines of migratory
flight’ or zones of temperature,’ ” the letter states.
Before 1998, Mississippi had the seventh highest average duck
harvest of the 14 states in the Mississippi Flyway. In 1998, Lott
was largely behind an effort to extend the duck season in southern
states. That year, the FWS agreed to allow a Jan. 31 closure, but
only if the state’s opting for that later closing date gave up nine
days of hunting.
Three of the six southern states took the Jan. 31 closure in
1998, 1999 and 2000 Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.
Kentucky, Arkansas and Louisiana also were offered the later
closing date, but opted not to take it.
Now, all six states may get the late closing date without the
“In 1998, 1999 and 2000, even with the nine-day penalty,
Mississippi is now the fifth highest harvest state in the flyway,
even though it has the fewest hunters,” Bergquist said. “Last year,
Mississippi was the third highest in the flyway, exceeding even
Arkansas and Louisiana are the No. 1 and No. 2 duck harvesting
states, respectively, in the country.
The FWS cannot make the change without first posting the
proposed change in the Federal Register and then allowing a public
comment period. Bergquist said he has never seen the FWS move so
quickly on a framework rule change, nor offer such a brief public
comment period with such little notice.
“This is contrary to actions the FWS has shown in the past,”
Bergquist said. “The four flyway councils have been working with
the FWS to resolve framework issues. The FWS indicated earlier that
it would not make any changes this year (to later seasons in the
south) in hopes that the four flyways would come in with a unified
position in 2002. Now they’ve gone and done it out of the blue,
extremely late and well past the entire process period. My question
is why did the FWS do this now? To isolate six states in one flyway
is not very fair.”
The Wisconsin DNR will submit a letter opposing the proposal.
Bergquist said the Minnesota DNR also has drafted a strong letter
opposing the extension.
Fred Funk, of the La Crosse County Conservation Alliance, said
that group is opposing the change.
“We’ve written a letter in definite opposition,” Funk said. “The
long-term adverse affects of the proposed rule change are far
broader than just eliminating the nine-day penalty. It brings into
question our entire process of setting waterfowl seasons. This also
questions the integrity of the FWS.”
Comments have to be received at the FWS by Friday, Oct. 26. Send
comments to: Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Interior, ms 634, ARLSQ,
1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240.