BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) For the past 31 duck seasons, Louisiana hunters have taken to marshes, swamps, flooded rice fields and timber areas under what was a ground-breaking opportunity: a two-zone, two-splits-per-zone framework.
Back then, after exhaustive work by state and regional waterfowl biologists, it was determined that Louisiana should be among the first states in the country to be afforded the chance to split their hunting areas.
Throughout the 1970s, biologists' mapping found Louisiana's western coastal marshes attracted more Central Flyway ducks, while lands and waters in the state's eastern parishes were filled with waterfowl migrating along the Mississippi Flyway. The Central and Mississippi flyways are two of the country's four waterfowl flyways. The others are the Atlantic and Pacific, so named for the oceans that make up part of those flyways' boundaries.
Early in 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal migratory bird/waterfowl overseers, allowed several states, Louisiana among them, to make more changes, to the point where Louisiana could have four zones, instead of the East and West zones.
State Waterfowl Study leader Larry Reynolds teamed with folks in LSU's School of Renewable Natural Resources for surveys to determine waterfowl hunters' preferences.
The result of the two-year mail-outs and Internet responses led to Reynolds proposing a three-zone, two-splits-per-zone structure for the next four seasons, a plan the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission approved in early June.
There were two major changes, the first moving the southern parishes in the old West Zone into a new Coastal Zone, and the second was moving the northernmost reaches between the East and West zones farther east to U.S. 167.
That second move was changed Monday during the commission's July meeting when commission member Ronny Graham pushed for a move back to the old northern dividing line through Caddo and Bossier parishes, then a push east, then south to an intersection with U.S. 167 north of Alexandria.
Graham said the U.S. 167 line starting at the Louisiana-Arkansas line divided hard-hunted acreage of flooded timber and that hunters there wanted the entire area returned to the East Zone.
The move was adopted.
Reynolds' presentation Monday included his proposed dates for another line of 60-day duck seasons. This time it was the three new zones, and included a split of 30-day seasons for West Zone hunters. While the USFWS would have allowed the state to split its two allowed youth-only waterfowl hunting days, Reynolds continued with the state's rare policy of putting the young hunters afield the weekend before the regular-season opener. Most other states in the Mississippi Flyway put the youth-only hunts after the end of the regular season.
Graham then pushed for a change in the East Zone's special youth-only weekend. Graham said where he hunts there are no ducks during early November and his motion to move the East Zone Youth Weekend to Feb. 2-3 was approved.
Reynolds said hunters will have until Aug. 1 to make comments on the dates before the commission meets in Baton Rouge for its August meeting when the LWFC will affirm the waterfowl hunting dates the state will forward to the USFWS for its approval.
The certainty is that there will be another 60-day duck season after the USFWS released the May Breeding Count Survey results that showed the estimate of mallard populations is more than 10 million birds, a number that triggers a "liberal'' season framework of 60 days for Mississippi Flyway states. Louisiana is one of 13 states in that flyway.
Public comment on the season dates can be made through the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website: http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/hunting/migratory-and-waterfowl.