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For Release: Tuesday, May 19, 2015

DEC Announces Proposals to Amend Hunting and Trapping Regulations for Wild Turkey, Deer and Fisher

Proposed Changes Reflect Recent Population Assessments and Management Needs

Public Comments Accepted Through June 29


The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is now accepting public comments through June 29 on three regulatory proposals for hunting and trapping of wild turkey, deer and fisher, Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The changes cover fall turkey hunting seasons in most areas of the state; modifications of antlerless deer hunting seasons in portions of western and southeastern New York and Long Island, and changes to the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) procedures statewide; and reduction of the current fisher trapping seasons in northern New York, opening a limited new fisher trapping season in central and western New York, and clarification of general trapping regulations. Pending review of public comments on each of these proposals, some or all of the regulation changes could be in effect for fall 2015.

Proposed Fall Turkey Hunting Regulations
DEC is proposing to adjust fall turkey seasons in all areas of the state by limiting the season to two weeks only with a bag limit of one bird of either sex for the season.

"This proposal is an important step in a multi-year study to understand and respond to long-term declines in turkey populations, while maintaining some harvest opportunities," Commissioner Martens said. "DEC staff and our partners have worked hard over the past several years to collect and analyze information on the influence of habitat and weather on turkeys in different regions of the state, to understand what hunters want, and to assess seasonal survival and harvest rates of hen turkeys. This proposal is based on the results of those research endeavors."
As DEC and many hunters have noted, wild turkey populations have declined dramatically since their peak around 2001. Reasons for this decline include changes in habitat, higher predator populations, poor reproductive success in years with above average rainfall during the nesting season and harvest of hen turkeys during the fall season. Although conditions vary across the state, nearly all regions of New York have fewer turkeys today than in the past.
Since 2012, DEC biologists and researchers at SUNY ESF and Cornell University have worked to better understand the biological and social factors associated with turkey management. This includes:

  • A study of how weather and landscape-scale habitat features interact and influence the number of turkeys found in different parts of the state;
  • Surveys of turkey hunters to identify what they value in terms of turkey populations, a high quality hunting experience, and the trade-offs they are willing to make between hunting opportunity and turkey abundance; and
  • Field research where more than 450 hen turkeys are banded annually, some with satellite radios, so biologists can determine their survival and fall harvest rates.

The weather and habitat study indicated that the current configuration of fall turkey hunting zones is more complicated than necessary, and that four zones instead of six is more appropriate. The survey of fall turkey hunters indicated that the most important factors in their satisfaction are hearing and seeing birds and having the chance to go afield prior to the regular deer season. The banding study revealed that summer survival and fall harvest rates of hens are low, but reducing the harvest should result in higher turkey populations in the long-term.

Based on those studies, DEC concluded that the best way to enhance turkey populations while maintaining some fall hunting opportunity is to offer a two-week season in all areas of the state, with a seasonal limit of one bird of either sex. Season dates will be staggered among three broad regions, which will provide more avid hunters the chance to hunt turkeys for more than just two weeks: October 1-14 in the Northern Zone; October 17-30 in the Southern Zone; and November 21 - December 4 on Long Island (Suffolk County). This represents a reduced season length in most of the state and a modest increase in season length for Long Island.

The proposed fall hunting season changes will be evaluated as part of a four-year research program. DEC staff will continue to band and track hens in 2015 and 2016 to help evaluate the effects of fall season changes on hen harvest and survival. This information will be used along with information on turkey abundance, productivity, and hunter activity and harvest data collected annually, to determine future fall harvest opportunities that are sustainable under current environmental conditions and trends in turkey populations.

For more information or for instructions for submitting comments, go to the DEC website. Comments on the proposed fall turkey hunting regulations must be received by Monday, June 29.

Proposed Antlerless Harvest and DMAP Regulations
DEC is challenged to manage deer populations across a diverse range of environmental conditions and desired population levels. Currently, despite not issuing Deer Management Permits (DMPs) in Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) 6A in the St. Lawrence Valley since 2011, managers have identified the need to further restrict antlerless harvest to increase deer populations in that area of the state. Antlerless deer continue to be harvested during bow and muzzleloader hunting seasons, with the greatest harvest occurring during the seven-day early muzzleloader season. Over the past 25 years, DEC modified muzzleloader season opportunities in the Northern Zone, switching between either-sex, antlerless-only, or antlered-only as needed to achieve management objectives.

This proposed rule will restrict harvest during the early muzzleloader season to antlered deer only in WMU 6A until such time as populations increase to desired levels and the season may again be returned to an either-sex opportunity.

In stark contrast, antlerless deer harvest must be increased in WMUs 1C, 3M, 3S, 4J, 8A, 8C, 8F, 8G, 8H, 8N, 9A, and 9F, which include Suffolk County, portions of southeastern New York, and much of the Lake Plains and northern Finger Lakes area of central and western New York.

In these areas, deer populations are above levels desired by local stakeholders, resulting in unacceptable impacts to residents and local ecosystems. Offering increasing numbers of DMPs each year is no longer a productive way of increasing antlerless take in these areas because the supply has exceeded demand, so new strategies must be implemented to achieve greater antlerless deer harvests. Consistent with the DEC's Management Plan for White-tailed Deer in New York State, 2012-2016, this proposal will allow hunters to only take antlerless deer during the first 15 days of the early/regular bow season and during all of the late bow and muzzleloader seasons in the areas listed above.

Additionally, DEC is proposing to refine the DMAP to improve harvest reporting, increase program accountability, expand opportunity for landowners, reduce paperwork burden of applicants and DEC, and increase flexibility for DEC staff administering the program. DMAP provides site-specific management options for landowners and land managers. Specific proposed amendments include:

  • Remove the prohibition of using DMAP during the September portion of the early bow season in the Northern Zone;
  • Extend the duration of DMAP permits from one year to three years, while retaining annual reporting by permittees and hunters;
  • Modify permit eligibility to: (a) limit one application per "land parcel" instead of per "land/resource manager or group of land/resource managers"; (b) remove the requirement for municipalities to prepare a deer management plan; (c) allow forest landowners to submit one application for "multiple, non-contiguous parcels of forest land of at least 100 acres each within the same or adjacent Wildlife Management Unit(s)"; and (d) create a new application category for properties adjacent to "a parcel of publicly owned land that is at least 250 acres and that is not open to deer hunting by law, regulation, or public agency policy" (e.g., adjacent to Green Lakes State Park);
  • Clarify that application instructions will be available via DEC's website and change the application deadline from September 1 to August 1, beginning in 2016;
  • Clarify DEC's flexibility to issue DMAP tags in accord with need and management objectives and to allow each hunter to use up to 4 DMAP tags per permit where needed; and
  • Require that government agencies receiving a DMAP permit "ensure a process of tag distribution that provides equal opportunity for all licensed hunters."

For more information or for instructions for submitting comments, go to the DEC website. Comments on the proposed antlerless harvest and DMAP regulations must be received by Monday, June 29.

Proposed Fisher Trapping and General Trapping Regulations
Earlier this year, DEC released a Draft New York State Fisher Management Plan. Based on detailed information presented in the plan on fisher population status in various regions of the state, DEC is proposing the following changes to fisher trapping regulations:

  • Reduce the fisher trapping season from 46 to 22 days in selected Adirondack Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) where populations have declined in recent years;
  • Establish a nine-day trapping season, with a one-fisher seasonal limit, in parts of Central/Western New York, where populations have expanded dramatically in recent years; and
  • A special fisher trapping permit with a trapping activity report would be required for anyone trapping fisher in northern New York or in any areas where a new season is opened.

Public comments on the draft management plan were highly variable, ranging from strong support for the plan to concerns over the specific proposals for season timing and bag limits. DEC staff feels that the rationale for reducing fisher harvest in the Adirondacks and for opening a new trapping season in Central/Western New York remain valid, but additional public comment on the specific season dates and bag limits proposed at this time would be especially helpful. Public comments received on the proposed fisher regulations will further inform completion of the management plan. The draft plan is available on the DEC website at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9357.html.

In addition to the proposed fisher trapping regulations, DEC is proposing to update and clarify several general trapping regulations. Minor revisions are needed to clarify the intent of the regulations and to make them easier for trappers to understand and law enforcement officers to enforce. Some of these proposed regulation changes include:

  • Eliminate confusing language to clarify that body-gripping traps with a jaw spread of more than 7.5 inches (also known as "330" traps) may be set in water for beaver or otter;
  • Allow for the setting of certain traps within 15 feet of beaver dens or houses for species other than beaver and otter; and
  • Decrease the trap size (from >9 to >8.5 inches) that requires the use of an "off-set trigger" to minimize capture of otters when/where the otter season is closed. Currently, some manufacturers produce traps that are capable of catching a river otter and are just below the current 9-inch minimum size that requires an off-set trigger.

For more information or for instructions for submitting comments, go to the DEC website. Comments on the proposed fisher trapping and general trapping regulations must be received by Monday, June 29.

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