Part 2, Section 2.30 - Migratory Game Birds - Regulatory Impact Statement (Snow Goose)
Regulatory Impact Statement
1. Statutory Authority
Section 11-0303 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) authorizes the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC or department) to provide for the recreational harvest of wildlife giving due consideration to ecological factors, the natural maintenance of wildlife, public safety, and the protection of private property. Environmental Conservation Law sections 11-0303, 11-0307, 11-0903, 11-0905 and 11-0909 and 11-0917 authorize DEC to regulate the taking, possession, transportation and disposition of migratory game birds. ECL section 11-0307 was amended in May 2010 to specify that open seasons and bag limits for migratory game birds shall be those published annually in the Federal Register by the U.S. Department of the Interior, unless DEC adopts regulations pursuant to provisions of the ECL. However, the special snow goose harvest program regulations are not published annually in the Federal Register, so they must be maintained in 6 NYCRR.
2. Legislative Objectives
The legislative objective of the above-cited laws is to ensure adoption of State migratory game bird harvest regulations that conform with Federal regulations made under authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. sections 703-711). Season dates and bag limits are used to achieve harvest objectives and equitably distribute hunting opportunity among as many hunters as possible. Regulations governing the manner of taking upgrade the quality of recreational activity, provide for a variety of harvest techniques, afford migratory game bird populations with additional protection, provide for public safety and protect private property.
3. Needs and Benefits
This rulemaking will modify regulations pertaining to the special snow goose harvest program in New York. This program was established here and in many other states in 2008, to increase harvest of snow geese (Chen caerulescens) and help reduce environmental damage caused by the overabundance of these birds in eastern North America.
Snow geese are an arctic breeding goose species that reached record high population levels in North America in recent years. The numbers of snow geese counted annually in eastern North America increased from approximately 25,400 birds in 1965 to 1,019,000 birds in 2007. The population growth rate during 1965-2007 was 8% per year, which if sustained would have resulted in a population over 2 million by 2015, and nearly 3 million by 2020. The Atlantic Flyway Council population objective, as well as the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) spring population goal, for greater snow geese is only 500,000 birds.
Wildlife agencies, ecologists and environmental organizations are all concerned about the impacts that overabundant snow geese are having on arctic ecosystems, coastal wetlands, and agricultural crops. Snow geese are voracious herbivores, and their feeding activities have damaged thousands of acres of coastal wetlands on both the breeding grounds and wintering areas used by these birds.
In response to these concerns, wildlife managers and scientists in the U.S. and Canada have recommended that the snow goose population in eastern North America be reduced to 500,000 birds. To accomplish this, regular season hunting regulations have been liberalized to the maximum extent allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) adopted a "conservation order" in 2008 allowing states in the Atlantic Flyway to implement special snow goose harvest programs in addition to regular hunting seasons. Wildlife agencies in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Connecticut, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia have all implemented such special snow goose harvest programs. Goals of the Conservation Order were to increase the interest and effectiveness of recreational snow goose hunters, and allow additional hunting periods and techniques distinct from traditional recreational hunting.
Regular season hunting regulations for snow geese have been liberalized to the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in both the U.S. and Canada. Seasons now run for 107 days with a daily bag limit of 25 birds per day, but those seasons must close on or before March 10 annually. Special snow goose harvest programs have been established in New York and many other states since 2008, and those seasons can allow harvest whenever the birds occur in an area (as determined by each state), and allow the use of special measures such as electronic calls, "unplugged" shotguns capable of holding more than 3 shells, and extended shooting hours (to one-half hour after sunset).
In New York, the special snow goose harvest program currently consists of a spring season, from March 11 through April 15, in addition to the 107-day regular hunting season that is allowed anytime between October 1 and March 10. The bag limit is 25 snow geese per day, and hunters are allowed to use electronic calls and "unplugged" guns (shotguns capable of holding more than 3 shells) during the special harvest program only.
Collectively, the special harvest programs implemented to date have stabilized, but not reduced, the snow goose population. The 2012 population estimate of 1,005,000 greater snow geese was similar to 2007, but still double the AFC and NAWMP goals. Additional harvest is needed to reduce the population, and all Atlantic Flyway states have been encouraged to expand their special harvest programs in any way possible.
The Department proposes to reconfigure its regular hunting season and special harvest program to maximize the opportunity for hunters to take snow geese in New York. Regular hunting seasons would occur from October 1 through January 15, which is the maximum 107 days allowed by federal regulations. With the proposed amendments, the special snow goose harvest program would begin immediately after, on January 16, and continue through April 15 (same closing date as before), after which few if any snow geese remain in New York. Throughout the regular and special seasons, bag limits would be the maximum allowed by the USFWS during the regular season (currently 25 per day, no possession limit), and hunters would be allowed to use electronic calls and unplugged guns in any area or zone whenever no other migratory bird hunting seasons are open. Extended shooting hours (until one-half hour after sunset) would be allowed for snow geese only during the special snow goose harvest program period. The specific regulations proposed herein conform to all applicable requirements and constraints established by the USFWS.
The collective benefit of these changes is to maximize hunter harvest of snow geese to help limit or reduce snow goose populations as quickly as possible. By allowing snow geese to be taken throughout upstate New York from October 1 through April 15, with a uniform bag limit of 25 snow geese per day, regulations will be simplified and hunters will have almost unlimited opportunity to harvest these birds. Any additional harvest, along with what occurs in other states and Canada, will help restore balance to snow geese and the ecosystems they occupy.
Special snow goose harvest programs in the Atlantic Flyway have resulted in additional harvest of nearly 40,000 snow geese per year during 2009-2012, with about 7,000 of that occurring in New York. Regular season harvests of snow geese in New York during the same period (2008-2011) averaged only 4,000 birds per year, so the additional harvest during the special season has been significant. This rulemaking proposal would expand the times when hunters could take snow geese in New York, which could increase harvest by 1,000 or more birds per year. Most of the harvest occurs in areas with extensive agricultural lands and large open water roosting areas, such as the Finger Lakes, St. Lawrence Valley, and Champlain Valley regions. The special program does not include Long Island because relatively few snow geese occur in that region of the state.
These revisions to 6 NYCRR 2.30 will not result in any increased expenditures by State or local governments or the general public.
The proposed revisions do not require any new or additional paperwork from any regulated party.
6. Local Government Mandates
These amendments do not impose any program, service, duty or responsibility upon any county, city, town, village, school district or fire district.
The federal "Conservation Order" authorizes special snow goose harvest programs in New York and other states. Within constraints of that Conservation Order, New York prescribes harvest regulations that participants must comply with in order to participate in the special snow goose harvest program. Unlike traditional migratory game bird hunting regulations, the USFWS does not publish regulations selected by each state for its special snow goose harvest program. Therefore, this amendment is necessary to more fully implement the snow goose Conservation Order, and there is no duplication of federal and State regulations.
The principal alternative would be to not expand the special snow goose harvest program in New York. This would be contrary to the recommendations of federal agencies, flyway councils, and scientific panels that have documented the environmental impacts of snow geese and called for collective efforts to reduce the population. Recent evaluations suggest that the special programs implemented to date have increased harvest to some extent, but additional harvest is needed.
Another alternative would be to discontinue the special snow goose harvest program, which would reduce harvest of these birds in New York, and result in a higher population growth rate. This would undermine the collective efforts of waterfowl managers throughout the Atlantic Flyway, and increase the potential ecological and agricultural impacts of greater snow geese in eastern North America.
9. Federal Standards
There are no federal environmental standards or criteria relevant to the subject matter of this rule making. However, there are federal regulations for migratory game birds. This rule making will conform State regulations to federal regulations, but will not establish any environmental standards or criteria.
10. Compliance Schedule
All waterfowl hunters must comply with this rule making upon its effective date and during all subsequent hunting seasons.