A long interesting reply from the WDFW

Discussion in 'Washington Flyway Forum' started by sully, Jan 8, 2019.

  1. sully

    sully Elite Refuge Member

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    Dear Mr. Sullivan,



    Thank you for contacting the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Your message was forwarded to the Wildlife Program for a response.



    The Lesser Snow Goose is a migratory waterfowl species covered under the protection of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918). The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is the primary Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing the Nation’s migratory bird resources, and thereby assumes primary responsibility for legal compliance. This requires annual re-authorization of migratory bird hunting (including by falconry) completed by the Secretary of the Interior in accordance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act frameworks and the four bilateral conventions (Canada, Mexico, Japan and Russia) to ensure the proposed action does not adversely affect populations of species covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is developed periodically, updated with changing regulatory requests as needed, to be in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act; this was most recently updated in 2013 (Issuance of Annual Regulations Permitting the Hunting of Migratory Birds). For more detailed information and references, please see:https://www.fws.gov/birds/policies-...tions/how-regulations-are-set-the-process.php



    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) must take cautious steps when proposing any harvest season recommendation to ensure they fit within allowable parameters of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, drawing from aerial and ground surveys, large-scale banding operations (including with researchers and colleagues in Russia and Canada), and harvest reporting data. WDFW continues to prioritize these monitoring efforts to fulfill our mandate and responsibilities to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife, and ecosystems while providing sustainable waterfowl recreation opportunities.



    Through multiple meetings per year, representatives of USFWS and State agencies within the jurisdiction of the four recognized migratory bird flyways (Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic) review extensive monitoring data related to population status and trends, harvest statistics, and other topics of consideration to create the recommendations for allowable harvest for the next year. These recommendations must fit within the guidelines set by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and four conventions. For the Pacific Flyway, this means we must consider all four conventions (migratory bird populations relevant to Canada, Mexico, Japan, and Russia) as we have several waterfowl populations with annual lifecycle stages that fall within our jurisdiction.

    Washington is one of 11 states that cooperatively work together to set harvest regulations for waterfowl within the Pacific Flyway. Important to understand, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act sets the bounds on allowable migratory gamebird seasons. A season can start no earlier than September 1, may not extend beyond March 10 every year, and allows no more than 107-days of hunting towards any one species. Each Flyway has additional framework guidelines, including bag-limit maximums, which have been approved by the USFWS Service Regulations Committee (SRC), published the Federal Register and must be adhered to during each year’s season selection process. Geese are managed at the "population level" as geese from particular breeding areas tend to have different migration timing and distribution, and winter area congregation patterns even if they are the same species.



    Snow geese are a perfect example of this, because there are Pacific Flyway Management Plans that pertain to four different "white goose" populations: Ross's Geese (almost exclusively from Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary in northern Nunavut, Canada), Mid-continent population of Lesser Snow Geese (similar breeding origins as Ross's geese but extending to the Hudson Bay), Western Arctic population of Lesser Snow Geese (Canadian Arctic islands, MacKenzie River Delta, Alaska North Slope), and the Wrangel Island population of Lesser Snow Geese (Wrangel Island, Siberia, Russia). Through extensive banding efforts and marking projects (allowing us to identify individuals), we know that Snow Geese in western Washington are almost exclusively from the Wrangel Island population. Today, approximately 30-50 percent of this population spends late-October through mid-April in this region of Washington.

    Pertaining to Wrangel Island Snow Goose management in Washington State, guidance is given by the Pacific Flyway Management Plan and the 2015-2021 Game Management Plan for this population. The Flyway Management Plan’s goals and objectives are to:



    A. Maintain a total spring population of 120,000 snow geese on Wrangel Island (measured with a 3-year average),

    B. Maintain current wintering distribution of the population,

    C. Maintain adequate habitat to meet the population objective, and

    D. Sustain traditional educational, scientific, aesthetic, and harvest uses.

    E. Management Strategies articulated by this Plan that have direct implications for WDFW requirements includes:

    a) Conduct Midwinter Waterfowl Survey to assess winter population trends for the Skagit-Fraser segment, using photo counts when possible to improve accuracy, (Survey-2, rated as a top priority);

    b) Conduct age-ratio counts on the Fraser-Skagit area, using aerial photo counts to reduce bias, (Survey-3, rated as a top priority);

    c) Manage public lands, as well as influence agricultural practices and incentive programs on private lands, to maintain current distribution in migration and wintering use areas, (Habitat-2, rated tier-2 priority with WDFW and other states specified as Lead Agencies);

    d) Implement harvest strategy (see Appendix G detailing Fraser-Skagit considerations) to direct hunting regulation changes, and monitor and evaluate strategy for potential refinements, (Harvest Management-1, rated as a top priority);

    e) Conduct special hunter surveys for the Fraser-Skagit area to estimate annual harvest, (Harvest Management-2, rates as a top priority with WDFW specified as Lead Agency).



    The aforementioned Appendix G refers to specific harvest guidelines to be applied to the Skagit-Fraser flock, a recognized traditional winter use region, which relies upon high precision estimates of flock size and achieved harvest, and demonstrates that total harvest in the Fraser-Skagit region must exceed 14 percent when the winter flock count is above 70,000. The WDFW Game Management Plan specifies thresholds of actions taken under different scenarios of the winter flock count (see page Table 3, page 122) including that when the flock is above 70,000, WDFW must consider increasing the bag-limit and/or extending the season past the traditional late-January end date. The most recent 3-year average for the Skagit-Fraser winter flock count is 90,455 snow geese, and has come down from a peak count in January 2017 of 103,617 Snow Geese with an abnormally high ratio of juvenile geese (>30 percent).



    The Skagit-Fraser winter flock size is estimated through an aerial photographic survey flown at least twice per winter to establish total flock size and age-ratio estimates per Survey requirements above. Due to the precision required, traditional estimates of goose harvest are not reliable enough to estimate total harvest for a region as small as the Skagit River Delta (Goose Management Area 1; Skagit-Snohomish-Island). Such concentrated harvest scenarios lead to large bias in “parts surveys,” where a sample of hunters are asked to submit all harvested wings of ducks and tail-fans of geese to establish harvest estimates. Therefore, the requirement of a special hunter survey was necessary to generate a reliable and repeatable total harvest estimate regardless of population size and hunter effort (number of hunters and days afield). The mandatory harvest record cards are the best means to generate this necessary monitoring metric. The revenue generated from the five Migratory Bird Authorizations that require a Harvest Report Card, are used for the surveys and assessments required of these monitoring scenarios that present a higher risk in decision-making related to season and bag-limit structure and justifications.



    Given the Skagit-Fraser 3-year winter flock average at the time, an increased bag limit was necessitated by the Flyway Management Plan, but to achieve the more than 14 percent harvest rate guidance, the decision to split goose-species specific bag limits was made, establishing a separate six snow goose bag limit for the 2017-18 season. Following the January 2017 high winter flock and 3-year average estimates, the ability to achieve greater than 14 percent harvest rates was only going to be attainable by following the WDFW Game Management Plan guidance to consider extending the season beyond the traditional late-January closure date. This would require an approved adjustment to the Pacific Flyway frameworks related to Washington’s Goose Management Areas, which was approved by the Pacific Flyway Council and USFWS Service Regulations Committee, and incorporated as a consideration during WDFW’s 3-year Season Setting Public Process.



    It is important to reiterate that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act frameworks prohibit hunting past March 10 and more than 107-days of hunting for any species. Therefore, days could not have been added to the existing Snow Goose season dates for Goose Management Area 1. It is also important not to confuse the actions that are being taken for the Mid-Continent population of Lesser Snow Geese that is referred to as a “Conservation Order” and are explicitly not to be construed as an extension of a hunting season; such an action required a Congressional action to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (50 CFR 12.60 – Conservation order for light geese) and it was explicitly stated this type of action did not extend to the Wrangel Island population, a change in this intent would likely require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and it is very unlikely this population would meet the required definitions.



    Given the need to move days from the previous 107-day structure to meet the requirement of extending the season past late-January, information being collected by the Mandatory Harvest Report Cards for Goose Management Area 1 was utilized to identify a 12-day period lull in total harvest and hunter days afield. There was a clear drop-off in harvest and hunter participation following the Thanksgiving weekend therefore a Monday to the next Friday, including only one weekend, was chosen specifically to minimize impacts to snow goose hunters while trying to achieve a higher total harvest rate and meet the greater than 14 percent harvest rate guidance. During the 3-year Season Setting Process and the subsequent Public Comment period related to the 2018-19 Migratory Gamebird Season adjustments, valid concerns were raised about 1) keeping with the second over-arching objective of maintaining winter distribution of the population, remembering the Skagit-Fraser River Deltas are a traditional wintering region for the population and 2) the potential of illegal harvest of Trumpeter Swans, a species prohibited for take by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and subsequent Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements, required more cautious steps to be taken in eastern Snohomish County. The opportunity for Snow Goose hunting is very limited in distribution and a situation encouraging a hunt in a region where there was very limited opportunity could put waterfowl hunters in a scenario to commit an illegal harvest. The closure of state-owned wildlife areas is consistent with goose seasons that occur after late-January in other parts of the state and other parts of the Flyway. However, additional concern was raised in the Skagit County region, as several of the wildlife area units are not foraging habitats, and would have only encouraged the potential for shooting out of range, referred to as “sky-busting,” which would result in a decrease in the effectiveness of harvest in surrounding areas. Through closures of state-owned wildlife areas that have foraging habitats, it also fulfills the mandate to maintain current distributions and habitats per the Pacific Flyway Management Plan. Worth noting, two of the areas listed are Game Reserves that had already provided hunting closures by Washington Administrative Code (WAC 220-411-080 and WAC 220-411-120), and do not reflect additional closure, their mention in the regulations pamphlet was to draw attention and remind waterfowl hunters of this consideration.



    Finally, with regard to the Harvest Report Card, with the harvest strategies undertaken in the past two seasons, it is necessary to monitor the result of these management actions in the event that harvest rates need to be lowered based on future 3-year average winter flock counts, and to justify any future management actions with the USFWS, bi-lateral agreements with Canada and Russia, and other Pacific Flyway states. However, WDFW is taking steps to improve the reporting requirement. For example, this year the length of the report card was shortened. We continue to work towards online and mobile methods of reporting that we hope replaces the physical paper card in the future, but until that time the ability to assess management action is best accomplished through the use of the mandatory harvest report card. Additionally, the Waterfowl Section is assessing the concern of Snow Goose with overlapping swan concentrations in eastern Snohomish County to evaluate alternative season structures and this information will certainly be incorporated into future decision-making regarding Snow Goose harvest in Goose Management Area 1, once all information is available following the current season.



    Sincerely,



    Wildlife Program Customer Service

    (360) 902-2515
     
  2. billwnr

    billwnr Elite Refuge Member

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    I ran out of patience about 3 paragraphs in. Read like a form letter.
     
  3. Wareagle1

    Wareagle1 Elite Refuge Member

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    I’ll read this tonight when I’m drinking!:dv
    Any good news though?
     
  4. sully

    sully Elite Refuge Member

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    Good news is if you get drunk enough it will all make sense!
     
  5. Wareagle1

    Wareagle1 Elite Refuge Member

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    Well maybe I’ll have to put it off til Saturday evening, gotta hunt in am! Thanks for the warning.
     
    sully likes this.
  6. Coho

    Coho Moderator Emeritus Moderator

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    As usual....Bla-bla-bla-bla ;)
     
  7. mrbill

    mrbill Elite Refuge Member

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    Short version, No change.
     
  8. Potholes Mark

    Potholes Mark Senior Refuge Member

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    Wow that PAINFUL!!!
    Coho's got it right Blah! Blah! Blah!
     
  9. sully

    sully Elite Refuge Member

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    I wonder if they are aware of what so many think of their leadership?
     
  10. waterswatter

    waterswatter Elite Refuge Member

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    Just curious as to where they got the 14% or greater harvest goal comes in at blah, blah, blah......I know, appendix G....

    Is this a case of garbage in, garbage out?
     

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