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Setting Regulations
The Secretary of the Interior, under the authorization of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, is authorized to determine when hunting of migratory game birds can take place in the United States and to adopt regulations for this purpose. This responsibility has been delegated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Blue-winged
              teal Service. The Pacific Flyway Council cooperates with the Service to develop regulations for migratory game birds in the United States west of the Continental Divide. Both organizations consider the welfare of migratory game bird populations first, and then public demands for recreation and subsistence harvest, and other uses. The flyway councils have no direct role in setting migratory bird hunting regulations in Canada or Mexico.

The annual process for setting hunting regulations in the United States begins in October and ends in September. The process involves several steps:

  • Service and state biologists gather, analyze, and interpret survey data and disseminate the information through a series of published status reports and presentations to flyway councils and committees.
  • The Pacific Flyway Study Committee reviews the reports and proposes appropriate hunting seasons and bag limits to the council.
  • The Pacific Flyway Council considers the proposals and submits its recommendations to the Service.
  • Virginia rail
  • The Service develops migratory bird hunting regulations by establishing the frameworks, or outside limits, for season lengths, season dates, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting. Final approval is the responsibility of the Secretary of the Interior.
  • The state wildlife agencies, through their appointed commissions and boards, set state waterfowl and other migratory game bird hunting regulations (season dates, bag limits, etc.) within the frameworks established by the Service. States may be more conservative in their selections than the federal frameworks but never more liberal.

Annual Regulation Cycle
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets migratory bird hunting regulations by establishing the frameworks, or outside limits, for Common snipe season lengths, bag limits, and areas for migratory bird hunting. The states subsequently select hunting seasons within these frameworks. Frameworks and season selections are developed annually for each species considering factors such as population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering habitat, number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest.

The biological cycle of migratory birds controls the timing of data-gathering activities and thus the date on which population survey results are available for examination. The Study Committee and Council usually consider migratory bird hunting regulations at their fall meetings just after biological data become available for many waterfowl species in about late August.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 implemented the 1916 convention (treaty) between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the protection of birds migrating between the U.S. and Canada. Relative to hunting regulations, the provisions of the Treaty established:

  • A definition of migratory birds, including game and nongame species.
  • Golden eagle
  • A closed hunting season each year between March 10 and September 1, with certain limited exceptions for subsistence purposes.
  • Hunting seasons no longer than 3.5 months (107 days) for any species and region.
  • Prohibition of hunting migratory birds except as permitted by regulations adopted by the U.S. Department of the Interior (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).

Similar conventions between the United States and Mexico (1936; amended 1997), Japan (1972) and Russia (1976) further expanded the scope of international protection of migratory birds. Amendments to the treaties with Canada and Mexico were ratified in 1997 to provide for regulated subsistence hunting of migratory birds in Alaska and Canada.

What are Migratory Game Birds?
The migratory bird conventions (treaties) between the United States and several foreign nations for the protection and conservation of these species define migratory game birds as those species belonging to the following families:

  • Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans)
  • Rallidae (rails, gallinules, coots)
  • Gruidae (cranes)
  • Scolopacidae (snipe)
  • Columbidae (pigeons, doves)
  • Corvidae (crows)

Three families listed as game birds have not been open to sport hunting since endorsement of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  • Charadriidae (plovers, lapwings)
  • Haematopodidae (oystercatchers)
  • Recurvirostridae (avocets, stilts)

Adaptive Harvest Management
The annual process of setting duck-hunting regulations in the United States is based on Adaptive Harvest Management: a system of resource monitoring, data analyses, and rule making. In 1995, the Service adopted the concept of adaptive resource management for regulating duck harvests in the United States. redhead The adaptive approach explicitly recognizes that the consequences of hunting regulations cannot be predicted with certainty, and provides a framework for making objective decisions in recognition of that uncertainty. Inherent in the adaptive approach is an awareness that management performance can be maximized only if regulatory effects can be predicted reliably. Thus, adaptive management relies on a cycle of monitoring, assessment, and decision making to clarify the relationships among hunting regulations, harvests, and waterfowl abundance.

The Formal Process for Change
Member states have a formal process for proposing federal framework changes through the flyway system:

  • States proposing changes in regulatory frameworks must provide verbal or written notification of their intentions at the Pacific Flyway Study Committee's non regulatory meeting (typically in March). States must submit the proposed changes and biological justification in writing to the Study Committee at least 30 days before its regulatory meeting (typically September).
  • The recommendation goes to the appropriate subcommittee for consideration. The subcommittee makes a recommendation to the Study Committee, which then votes to either approve or reject the proposal.
  • All approved proposals go to the Pacific Flyway Council for consideration. The council votes on the proposals and forwards its recommendations to the Service for consideration.
  • The Service Migratory Bird Regulations Committee (referred to as the SRC) considers flyway council recommendations at its October meeting where migratory bird hunting regulations for the subsequent fall and winter are developed.

Federal Register
Federal rulemaking documents (proposed, supplemental, and final) for migratory game bird hunting in the U.S. are published in the Federal Register. The annual regulation cycle includes the following publications and approximate target month.

  • Proposed rulemaking for migratory game bird hunting regulations—August
  • Proposed season frameworks for migratory game bird hunting—December
  • Final frameworks for migratory game bird hunting—February
  • Seasons and bag and possession limits for certain migratory game birds—June

Public Input
Publics wishing to provide input on proposed migratory bird management actions and regulations are encouraged to contact their state agency representatives. Publics may also provide comment by attending the Pacific Flyway Council meetings in March or July or by submitting written comments to the Council chairperson. The rulemaking processes of individual state and federal governments all have a public comment period. The federal rulemaking process and opportunity for public input is described in the Federal Register.

Photo credit: blue-winged teal, photographer unknown; Virginia rail, G. Andrejko; Common snipe, J. Bartholmai; golden eagle, G. Andrejko; redhead, photographer unknown; western Canada goose, T. Sanders.

State Regulations
New Mexico

American white pelican
American white pelican (Photo by G. Andrejko).

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