Proposed Wisconsin waterfowl hunting changes altered after review of public comments
After reviewing extensive feedback from thousands of waterfowl hunters collected through mail-in surveys, annual spring hearings and a waterfowl hunters' conference, wildlife officials are retooling proposed changes in waterfowl hunting zones and dates for 2011 and beyond. The Natural Resources Board will be asked to make a final decision on season structures at its August 9-10 meeting in Sauk City.
Details of the revised zone and season structure proposal can be reviewed on the waterfowl page of the Department of Natural Resources website. All citizens — hunters and non-hunters alike — will be able to comment over the next three months at public meetings. Meeting dates and locations for sharing comments will be announced following the May 25 Natural Resources Board meeting. Comments may also be submitted by emailing, writing or phone by contacting Kent Van Horn, DNR waterfowl biologist. (608) 266-8841.
"Input we've received over the years from waterfowl hunters shows a range of preference for season dates and hunting zones," Van Horn said. "Finding a season structure that meets everyone's desires and also fits within federal guidelines for waterfowl seasons is challenging. We're seeking comment on three new proposals and we hope that hunters will find one of these proposals as the best fit for our future duck hunting opportunities."
These latest season proposals take advantage of two new season configurations under consideration by federal waterfowl managers; either a three-zone option with season splits; or a four-zone option with no splits. A split, explained VanHorn, is a short break in a hunting season allowing waterfowl a rest from hunting pressure and an opportunity for additional waterfowl to move into a hunting zone as fall migrations progress.
"These new zone proposals keep the traditional Highway 10 boundary between north and south zones for waterfowl hunting purposes," says Van Horn. "That has proven to be a good dividing line for early and late season starting dates. But that framework doesn't work as well for the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan hunters. These proposals create a new zone or zones for those water bodies intended to better address migratory patterns on those waters."
Wisconsin is home to roughly 80,000 waterfowl hunters and a variety of waterfowl habitats from potholes and wetlands to river corridors to inland lakes and the coastal waters of Lakes Superior and Michigan. This diversity of hunters and habitats has produced a wide range of waterfowl hunter preferences for hunting season dates and hunting zones. Waterfowl are migratory and hence ultimately are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The service provides broad season frameworks that individual states can then tailor to their hunters, their habitat and migratory patterns. All season structures are subject to USFWS review for compliance with guidelines.
"These revamped zone proposals are being sent to USFWS for review but in the meantime we are moving ahead and gathering public input," said Van Horn. "Once a new duck zone structure is approved and adopted by the wildlife service, a state is locked into that structure for five years with annual flexibility for adjustments to opening dates and splits. We want to build a season structure that meets the desires of as many hunters as possible but also protects the resource and gives Wisconsin waterfowlers the best opportunity to hunt with the peaks in fall migration."