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Waterfowl Hunter Task Forces

Purpose

  • The purpose of the Citizen Task Force (TF) is to allow waterfowl hunters the opportunity to become directly involved with the duck hunting season-setting process.
  • A group of selected hunter representatives sit as a TF to discuss and decide, by consensus, recommendations for opening and closing dates for the upcoming duck hunting season.
  • The TF represent all waterfowlers in a particular zone. The TF members make themselves available for, and solicit, input from hunters who have interest in hunting in the zone.
  • Within the anticipated federal frameworks for opening and closing dates, total number of hunt days and species restrictions, the TF provides the Bureau of Wildlife's (BOW) Season-setting Team (SST) with recommendations for duck hunting season dates.
  • The SST reviews all season date recommendations and includes those in a draft press release announcing tentative season dates, subject to approval by the Bureau Chief and Commissioner.

History of the Task Force Process

  • TFs are now held in four of New York's five waterfowl hunting zones - Western (beginning in 1997), Southeastern (1998), Northeastern (2003) and Long Island (2007).
  • The first TF in the Western Zone came about because of the wide divergence of hunter opinions about the appropriate time to hunt in the zone and the disagreement between many of those desires and the dates chosen for seasons by BOW.
  • The large and diverse Western Zone provides very early season marsh and small stream/beaver pond hunting, shallow lakes that often freeze up before mid December, and deeper Finger Lakes and Great Lakes shorelines and rivers that stay open into January. Throughout the zone there is more opportunity to hunt over a period of four months than federal regulations allow. Each year certain factions of hunters were disappointed that they were not able to hunt at their favorite time.
  • In 1996 Western Zone hunters also expressed their dislike for the timing of the restricted black duck season chosen by the BOW SST.
  • As a result of discussions between Western Zone waterfowl hunters and the Chief of BOW in 1996, the ST was charged with developing a procedure that expanded hunter input in the season setting process.
  • After much discussion the BOW SST determined that, in general, the resource (the duck population) is protected as along as the hunting season is no longer than the maximum days allowed by federal regulations, dates fall within the overall framework and the number of ducks taken does not exceed bag limits. Therefore, the selection of the actual hunting season dates becomes a SOCIAL decision and it is appropriate to allow the people who hunt (or represent those who do) to recommend the best season dates.
  • The BOW SST developed a citizen input process to be used by Western Zone hunters and termed the group the Western Zone Waterfowl Hunter Task Force. Members were chosen by BOW and put to work in April 1997.
  • At about the same time, the Southeastern Zone was experiencing similar hunter interest conflicts. The timing of the best hunt opportunities on the Hudson River in the east and Oneida Lake to the west differed significantly to the extent that the limited number of duck season days could not accommodate both interests. Conflicts came to the point that New York State legislators were solicited by hunter groups in an effort to "convince" the DEC to develop duck season dates in favor of their constituents. In order to resolve the conflict, for at least one year, hunters from each area met to resolve differences and compromise on duck season dates that were accepted by BOW. This hunter group meeting experience served as a model for future TF work. In 1998, a formal TF was established in the Southeastern Zone.
  • Hunters in the Northeastern Zone and the Long Island Zones later expressed interest in forming TF's and they came about in 2003 and 2007, respectively.

Task Force Membership

  • It is the BOW SST's responsibility to develop annually each of the TF membership lists. The ideal number of TF members is about 11. More members makes it difficult for the group to discuss and conclude. Fewer members may mean there is not enough representation throughout the zone. However, a number of successful TF meetings have been held with fewer than 11 members.
  • To establish a membership list the SST first looks to organized groups to provide a member to serve on a TF. Examples of types of these groups include:
    • Organized, long-standing waterfowl hunting organizations
    • NYS Conservation Council regional Waterfowl Committee representative
    • County sportsmen's federations
    • Waterfowl interest groups, e.g., Waterfowl USA
    • Sportsmen's organizations with waterfowl hunting interests within their members
  • If necessary, the SST may invite additional TF members if some geographic area of the zone is not represented. These additional members are termed "At Large" members.
    • "At Large" members may be chosen by several methods. Hunter interest groups may be asked to provide the SST with a person to serve on the TF (they may be asked for several names from which the SST may choose). The SST may select a member on their own, based on prior contacts with local hunters.

Duties of Task Force Members

  • TF members have their names, addresses, phone and e-mail made public
  • They are expected to actively solicit the opinions and desires of area hunters
  • They should be available to any and all hunters to receive their opinions
  • TF members are required to attend the annual meeting in April, participate in discussions, listen and become aware of other hunter desires in the zone and work to achieve common ground to reach consensus on duck season dates that will satisfy the most hunters in the zone.

Responsibilities of Bureau of Wildlife Season-Setting Team

  • Develop the annual TF membership lists
  • Provide public communications (news release, website) on the TF process, including names and contact information for all TF members
  • Provide a non Department of Environmental Conservation facilitator to oversee the TF meeting
  • Provide TF meeting locations, refreshments and lunch
  • Be available to answer all questions concerning the TF process and waterfowl management
  • Provide a SST member to participate in the meeting to provide information and insight
  • Provide harvest and management information to TF members

Timing of Annual Meetings

  • Each TF meets one time, usually on a Saturday in April. TFs base their discussions on the anticipated upcoming federal frameworks. Recommendations from all TFs are reviewed by the SST and included in a draft press release announcing tentative season dates, subject to approval by the Bureau Chief and Commissioner. The tentative dates are released to the public in June by news release, website and meetings with sportsmen's groups.

Objectives and Expectations of the Annual Task Force Meeting

  • TF members are representatives for all hunters within the zone. They must be willing to sit with other members to discuss issues, negotiate and, ultimately, compromise in order to recommend season dates that all members can live with and that are satisfying to the majority of hunters in the zone.
  • All decisions are by consensus; there is no voting.
  • TFs will develop Recommendations for:
    • Regular season duck hunting dates
    • Dates for Youth Waterfowl Hunt days
    • Dates for restricted seasons (seasons within seasons). Recent examples include pintail and canvasback

Recommendations will be accepted as the tentative and final season dates by the SST unless they do not conform with final federal regulations.

  • TFs provide Suggestions for:
    • Canada goose, snow goose and brant hunting dates

Suggestions will be considered by the SST, but may not be readily accepted because federal regulations for goose species tend to be less certain than for ducks. Also, Canada goose seasons in New York do not follow the regular zone boundaries, so in some cases more than one TF may suggest dates for the same area. Breeding ground information and data on the various goose populations will be reviewed before final season dates are selected by the SST.

  • In all cases the final decisions for season dates and regulations are made by the Commissioner.
  • The TFs may also be asked for opinions on waterfowl management issues (for example, preferences for alternative bag restrictions on scaup) and used as a sounding board of hunter interests and concerns.

Results and Success of the Task Forces

  • To date all TFs have been able to recommend season dates that were acceptable to the SST and been satisfying to most hunters. With only a few exceptions the TF recommendations have been well accepted by hunters and there have been fewer complaints by hunters to BOW.
  • Almost all TF members have indicated they have gained much from the opportunity to serve. Most have also felt they have learned from the face to face discussions with other TF members and they are now aware of and understand the desires of hunters from other areas of the zone.
  • TF members have developed "ownership" in the seasons they have developed and the process they have participated in.
  • Some TF members have been unhappy with the process, because they felt their particular desires for season dates were not well accepted by most other TF members. Some have also come away without a clear understanding of the rationale for recommended season dates, making it hard for them to explain to their fellow hunters back home why season dates were set the way they were. In a few cases, TF members have decided to not return the following year.
  • More than 70 individuals have participated in the TF process since its inception in 1997. Some people served only one year, and a few have served every year, but on average, members have served about 4 years or less.

New York State Duck Hunter Survey

  • NYS duck hunters were recently (2005) surveyed and the survey design included a representative sample from each of the four major waterfowl hunt zones. Among other things, they were asked about the TF process.
    • When asked if they had ever heard of or contributed to the process, only 35% were aware that BOW had used TFs to recommend season dates, and about 34% of those had personally provided input to a TF. While these percentages seem low, they suggest that several thousand hunters statewide had participated in the process.
    • Given a brief description of the TF process, they were asked if they approved of it as a way to set duck season dates. More than 80% of respondents said they supported the use of a TF process.