Early Season Process in the U.S.

Each January, the FWS publishes its intention to open the current year's hunting season on certain migratory birds and at the same time identifies priority issues and the potential for major changes. Traditionally, in early March, the Central Flyway Technical Committees meet to consider the status of several migratory bird species with a focus on webless species such as doves, cranes, snipe and September teal and early Canada goose seasons. The technical committees of other flyways also meet in late-winter. The Technical Committees make recommendations to Council for consideration at their late-March meeting. Both groups take into account the most current information from population status and harvest surveys and other issues identified by the FWS. While annual changes in population status may be important, the Flyway places a greater weight on long-term trends.

In recent years, this has also been a time when flyways provide input to the Adaptive Harvest Management regulatory packages that affect duck hunting season. Recommendations about these issues are forwarded to the FWS. The Council will also alert the FWS if they plan to present proposals for major changes to waterfowl hunting regulations in the Late Season process later in the year. Thus, March is the beginning of what is known as the Early Season process, a time when regulations for seasons that open in September are considered. This includes seasons for webless birds, September teal and September Canada geese.

In June, the FWS convenes its Service Regulations Committee (SRC) comprised of four Regional Directors plus a chairperson. The Committee considers the recommendations from the Council and its own staff in the Office of Migratory Bird Management. This meeting is attended by two representatives from each Flyway so direct interaction between the flyways and the SRC can occur. Ultimately the SRC directs its staff to publish a set of proposed hunting regulations in the Federal Register. These proposals include the "frameworks" from which states can choose their hunting seasons and include things like how long a season can be, how many birds are allowed in a daily bag limit and the dates within which a season can be chosen. The FWS receives comments on these proposals and, after addressing the comments, publishes a Final Rule, usually in August. As is the case with other official rules, the Secretary of Interior must sign the Final Rules. States then select the hunting season that best fits their needs from within the Frameworks provided. States can be more restrictive but not more liberal that the Frameworks allow.