Earlier this month, Taylor Finger, the Department of Natural Resources migratory game bird ecologist, presented the 2019 migratory bird season framework to the Natural Resources Board (NRB).
The basic framework parameters are set federally for migratory birds, and the DNR works with Fish and Wildlife Services to set the framework for the state. From there the department works with the Wisconsin Conservation Congress as well as other conservation groups, Finger said. Once that input is gathered, a framework is sent out for public comment. After public comment was taken into consideration, a final draft of the 2019 framework was put together, which Finger brought to the board this month.
Teal and geese
In the framework this year is a plan to increase the early teal season from seven days to nine. By federal regulation, the state is allowed a 16-day season, but has had a seven-day season for the last five years. Adding two days to the season adds an extra weekend, giving more opportunity for hunters who would like to target those birds.
Another addition would be to add light geese (snow and Ross' geese) to the early goose season. Finger said the department predicted no biological concern with this addition. The state would only be taking advantage of 92 of the federally-allowable 107 days for snow goose season with this addition from Sept. 1-15.
Like last year, this year's framework also calls for a second split season, or season closure, in the South Zone Regular Canada Goose Season to allow the season to include the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Federal regulations allow for two split seasons.
This framework would close Canada goose with duck season for 16 days, then reopen the season on Dec. 16, Finger said.
This would allow the season to be open through the New Year's holiday, again giving hunters more opportunity to take part in the hunt. Finger said this also posed no biological concern as 90 percent of geese are harvested before Nov. 25 currently. He expected no real impact on harvest numbers.
The framework also creates a statewide opening of Sept. 28. That would push the Northern season opener a week later. Finger said northern hunters may not opt for the change next year, due to the date on which the opener would fall, but this year there was a large contingent of hunters who wished to have a consistent statewide opener.
The framework also proposes increasing the black duck bag limit to two per day. There was some concern regarding mistakenly harvesting hen mallards, but Finger said he found very few instances of citations for the mistake. Federal regulations allow for a two-per-day bag limit.
The framework also looks to reduce the pintail daily bag limit from two to one. This follows the federal framework, which found population numbers are now below the threshold that would allow a two-per-day harvest bag limit.
Finger went on to present information to the board regarding populations and habitat. He stated the 2018 Continental duck count stood at 41.2 million, which is a near record high in the last 63 years. The continental wetland count, he said, showed above average numbers as did Wisconsin ducks and wetlands and Wisconsin Canada geese. Ontario nesting Canada geese, he said, were in a long-term decline. He stated, however, most of the Canada geese harvested in Wisconsin were not Ontario-nesting geese. Duck estimates, Finger said, also looked very good.
This year was the first time the department used an online tool to collect feedback from hunters, he noted. This was done in an attempt to hear from more hunters regarding the framework and their ideas, and to field their questions. In 2017, they received feedback from only 151 of the estimated 70,000 migratory bird hunters in the state, he said. A push was made through social media and other means, and those comments rose to 710.
According to Finger reported, over 2,200 hunters provided input on the proposed framework for the 2019 hunting season. With much more input than in the pasts there were some differences in hunter opinion, as was to be expected, he noted. However, it seemed the majority were in favor of the framework as it was presented.
There was 70 percent support for an early teal season, Finger said, with 57 percent of hunters supporting a season of nine days or longer. Support for the change in the Northern Duck Zone opening date being Sept. 28 this year stood at 53 percent, he said, with 31 percent favoring a Sept. 21 opening date. There was also 50 percent support for Sept. 28 as the opening date for the Southern Zone, and a 36 percent show of support for that date to be later, on Oct. 5.
The Mississippi River duck zone split also had majority support of hunters, with 61 percent favoring the split. There was also 66 percent support for a split of less than 12 days. Finger noted that, for the last three years, a seven-day split has been widely supported.
During the public comment period, Todd Cook, representing the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation Waterfowl Committee and the LaCrosse Conservation Alliance, stated both groups would be in support of an even larger split, more than 12 days. He stated the longer open-water period on the river should allow that zone to have a hunt continue longer in the season than the Southern Zone.
Input regarding the 2019 migratory bird season was gathered from over 2,200 individuals and five groups during its creation, Finger said.
From February to March, the department used press releases, the website and GovDelivery email updates to keep stakeholders informed about how the framework was shaping up. Finger reported 10,000 video views on Facebook and Facebook Live, reaching over 50,000 people.
The online tool itself received input from over 2,000 people.
Conservation group presentations and discussions started in February and included groups such as the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Migratory Bird Committee and the Wisconsin Waterfowl Hunters Conference. Four public hearings were also held from March 11-14 with an average attendance of approximately 100 people.
The board wondered if the online tool was perhaps more cost effective than holding four meetings across the state. Instead, they wondered if one centralized meeting might better serve the time and travel constrictions of Finger and the department, who could then use the online input tool, which seemed to be preferred by many hunters, to receive feedback.
NRB chairman Dr. Fred Prehn also asked the department to look at simplifying the season dates in some way to make it easier for hunters.
"These seasons are the most complicated and the easiest to get pinched on," he said. "Is there any way we can simplify the dates, for the sake of hunting, which is decreasing all the time?"
Taylor said the department was considering the possibility of a three- to five-year framework, which several conservation groups agreed had some merit. It was something not without issue, but that the department would likely look into moving forward. Ultimately, the NRB passed the 2019 migratory bird season framework as presented by the department.
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