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Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
Proposed rule; availability of supplemental information.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (hereinafter the Service or we) proposes to establish annual hunting regulations for certain migratory game birds for the 2015-16 hunting season. We annually prescribe outside limits (frameworks) within which States may select hunting seasons. This proposed rule provides the regulatory schedule, describes the proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2015-16 duck hunting seasons, requests proposals from Indian tribes that wish to establish special migratory game bird hunting regulations on Federal Indian reservations and ceded lands, and requests proposals for the 2017 spring and summer migratory bird subsistence season in Alaska. Migratory game bird hunting seasons provide opportunities for recreation and sustenance; aid Federal, State, and tribal governments in the management of migratory game birds; and permit harvests at levels compatible with migratory game bird population status and habitat conditions.
You must submit comments on the proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2015-16 duck hunting seasons on or before June 26, 2015. Following subsequent Federal Register notices, you will be given an opportunity to submit comments for proposed early-season frameworks by July 29, 2015, and for proposed late-season frameworks and subsistence migratory bird seasons in Alaska by August 29, 2015. Tribes must submit proposals and related comments on or before June 5, 2015. Proposals from the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-management Council for the 2017 spring and summer migratory bird subsistence harvest season must be submitted to the Flyway Councils and the Service on or before June 13, 2015.
You may submit comments on the proposals by one of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2014-0064.
- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2014-0064; Division of Policy, Performance, and Management Programs; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041.
We will not accept emailed or faxed comments. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see the Public Comments section, below, for more information).
Send your proposals for the 2017 spring and summer migratory bird subsistence season in Alaska to the Executive Director of the Co-management Council, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; or fax to (907) 786-3306; or email to email@example.com.
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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Ron W. Kokel at: Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, MS:MB, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041; (703) 358-1714. For information on the migratory bird subsistence season in Alaska, contact Donna Dewhurst, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor Road, Mail Stop 201, Anchorage, AK 99503; (907) 786-3499.
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Background and Overview
Migratory game birds are those bird species so designated in conventions between the United States and several foreign nations for the protection and management of these birds. Under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703-712), the Secretary of the Interior is authorized to determine when “hunting, taking, capture, killing, possession, sale, purchase, shipment, transportation, carriage, or export of any . . . bird, or any part, nest, or egg” of migratory game birds can take place, and to adopt regulations for this purpose. These regulations are written after giving due regard to “the zones of temperature and to the distribution, abundance, economic value, breeding habits, and times and lines of migratory flight of such birds” and are updated annually (16 U.S.C. 704(a)). This responsibility has been delegated to the Service as the lead Federal agency for managing and conserving migratory birds in the United States. However, migratory game bird management is a cooperative effort of State, Tribal, and Federal governments.
The Service develops migratory game bird hunting regulations by establishing the frameworks, or outside limits, for season lengths, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting. Acknowledging regional differences in hunting conditions, the Service has administratively divided the Nation into four Flyways for the primary purpose of managing migratory game birds. Each Flyway (Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific) has a Flyway Council, a formal organization generally composed of one member from each State and Province in that Flyway. The Flyway Councils, established through the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (IAFWA), also assist in researching and providing migratory game bird management information for Federal, State, and Provincial governments, as well as private conservation agencies and the general public.
The process for adopting migratory game bird hunting regulations, located at 50 CFR part 20, is constrained by three primary factors. Legal and administrative considerations dictate how long the rulemaking process will last. Most importantly, however, the biological cycle of migratory game birds controls the timing of data-gathering activities and thus the dates on which these results are available for consideration and deliberation.
The process includes two separate regulations-development schedules, based on early and late hunting season regulations. Early hunting seasons pertain to all migratory game bird species in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands; migratory game birds other than waterfowl (i.e., dove, woodcock, etc.); and special early waterfowl seasons, such as teal or resident Canada geese. Early hunting seasons generally begin prior to the last week in September. Late hunting seasons generally start during or after the last week in September and include most waterfowl seasons not already established.
There are basically no differences in the processes for establishing either early or late hunting seasons. For each cycle, Service biologists gather, analyze, and interpret biological survey data and provide this information to all those involved in the process through a series of published status reports and presentations to Flyway Councils and other interested parties. Because the Service is required to take abundance of Start Printed Page 19853migratory game birds and other factors into consideration, the Service undertakes a number of surveys throughout the year in conjunction with Service Regional Offices, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and State and Provincial wildlife management agencies. To determine the appropriate frameworks for each species, we consider factors such as population size and trend, geographical distribution, annual breeding effort, the condition of breeding and wintering habitat, the number of hunters, and the anticipated harvest.
After frameworks are established for season lengths, bag limits, and areas for migratory game bird hunting, States may select season dates, bag limits, and other regulatory options for the hunting seasons. States may always be more conservative in their selections than the Federal frameworks, but never more liberal.
Notice of Intent To Establish Open Seasons
This document announces our intent to establish open hunting seasons and daily bag and possession limits for certain designated groups or species of migratory game birds for 2015-16 in the contiguous United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, under §§ 20.101 through 20.107, 20.109, and 20.110 of subpart K of 50 CFR part 20.
For the 2015-16 migratory game bird hunting season, we will propose regulations for certain designated members of the avian families Anatidae (ducks, geese, and swans); Columbidae (doves and pigeons); Gruidae (cranes); Rallidae (rails, coots, moorhens, and gallinules); and Scolopacidae (woodcock and snipe). We describe these proposals under Proposed 2015-16 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations (Preliminary) in this document. We published definitions of waterfowl flyways and mourning dove management units, and a description of the data used in and the factors affecting the regulatory process, in the March 14, 1990, Federal Register (55 FR 9618).
Regulatory Schedule for 2015-16
This document is the first in a series of proposed, supplemental, and final rulemaking documents for migratory game bird hunting regulations. We will publish additional supplemental proposals for public comment in the Federal Register as population, habitat, harvest, and other information become available. Because of the late dates when certain portions of these data become available, we anticipate abbreviated comment periods on some proposals. Special circumstances limit the amount of time we can allow for public comment on these regulations.
Specifically, two considerations compress the time for the rulemaking process: The need, on one hand, to establish final rules early enough in the summer to allow resource agencies to select and publish season dates and bag limits before the beginning of hunting seasons and, on the other hand, the lack of current status data on most migratory game birds until later in the summer. Because the regulatory process is strongly influenced by the times when information is available for consideration, we divide the regulatory process into two segments: Early seasons and late seasons (further described and discussed above in the Background and Overview section).
Major steps in the 2015-16 regulatory cycle relating to open public meetings and Federal Register notifications are illustrated in the diagram at the end of this proposed rule. All publication dates of Federal Register documents are target dates.
All sections of this and subsequent documents outlining hunting frameworks and guidelines are organized under numbered headings. These headings are:
A. General Harvest Strategy
B. Regulatory Alternatives
C. Zones and Split Seasons
D. Special Seasons/Species Management
i. September Teal Seasons
ii. September Teal/Wood Duck Seasons
iii. Black Ducks
vii. Mottled Ducks
viii. Wood Ducks
ix. Youth Hunt
x. Mallard Management Units
2. Sea Ducks
4. Canada Geese
A. Special Seasons
B. Regular Seasons
C. Special Late Seasons
5. White-fronted Geese
7. Snow and Ross's (Light) Geese
9. Sandhill Cranes
11. Moorhens and Gallinules
15. Band-tailed Pigeons
19. Puerto Rico
20. Virgin Islands
Later sections of this and subsequent documents will refer only to numbered items requiring your attention. Therefore, it is important to note that we will omit those items requiring no attention, and remaining numbered items will be discontinuous and appear incomplete.
We will publish final regulatory alternatives for the 2015-16 duck hunting seasons in mid-July. We will publish proposed early season frameworks in mid-July and late season frameworks in mid-August. We will publish final regulatory frameworks for early seasons on or about August 15, 2015, and those for late seasons on or about September 19, 2015.
Request for 2017 Spring and Summer Migratory Bird Subsistence Harvest Proposals in Alaska
The 1916 Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) established a closed season for the taking of migratory birds between March 10 and September 1. Residents of northern Alaska and Canada traditionally harvested migratory birds for nutritional purposes during the spring and summer months. The 1916 Convention and the subsequent 1936 Mexico Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds and Game Mammals provide for the legal subsistence harvest of migratory birds and their eggs in Alaska and Canada during the closed season by indigenous inhabitants.
On August 16, 2002, we published in the Federal Register (67 FR 53511) a final rule that established procedures for incorporating subsistence management into the continental migratory bird management program. These regulations, developed under a new co-management process involving the Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska Native representatives, established an annual procedure to develop harvest guidelines for implementation of a spring and summer migratory bird subsistence harvest. Eligibility and inclusion requirements necessary to participate in the spring and summer migratory bird subsistence season in Alaska are outlined in 50 CFR part 92.
This proposed rule calls for proposals for regulations that will expire on August 31, 2017, for the spring and summer subsistence harvest of migratory birds in Alaska. Each year, seasons will open on or after March 11 and close before September 1.Start Printed Page 19854
Alaska Spring and Summer Subsistence Harvest Proposal Procedures
We will publish details of the Alaska spring and summer subsistence harvest proposals in later Federal Register documents under 50 CFR part 92. The general relationship to the process for developing national hunting regulations for migratory game birds is as follows:
(a) Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council. The public may submit proposals to the Co-management Council during the period of November 1-December 15, 2015, to be acted upon for the 2017 migratory bird subsistence harvest season. Proposals should be submitted to the Executive Director of the Co-management Council, listed above under the caption ADDRESSES.
(b) Flyway Councils.
(1) The Co-management Council will submit proposed 2017 regulations to all Flyway Councils for review and comment. The Council's recommendations must be submitted before the Service Regulations Committee's late season regulations meeting (July 2015) in order to be approved for spring and summer harvest beginning April 2 of the following calendar year.
(2) Alaska Native representatives may be appointed by the Co-management Council to attend meetings of one or more of the four Flyway Councils to discuss recommended regulations or other proposed management actions.
(c) Service Regulations Committee. The Co-management Council will submit proposed annual regulations to the Service Regulations Committee (SRC) for their review and recommendation to the Service Director. Following the Service Director's review and recommendation, the proposals will be forwarded to the Department of the Interior for approval. Proposed annual regulations will then be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment, similar to the annual migratory game bird hunting regulations. Final spring and summer regulations for Alaska will be published in the Federal Register in the preceding winter after review and consideration of any public comments received.
Because of the time required for review by us and the public, proposals from the Co-management Council for the 2017 spring and summer migratory bird subsistence harvest season must be submitted to the Flyway Councils and the Service by August 1, 2016, for Council comments and Service action at the October 2016 SRC meeting.
Review of Public Comments
This proposed rulemaking contains the proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2015-16 duck hunting seasons. This proposed rulemaking also describes other recommended changes or specific preliminary proposals that vary from the 2014-15 final frameworks (see August 28, 2014, Federal Register (79 FR 51402) for early seasons and September 23, 2014, Federal Register (79 FR 56864) for late seasons) and issues requiring early discussion, action, or the attention of the States or tribes. We will publish responses to all proposals and written comments when we develop final frameworks for the 2015-16 season. We seek additional information and comments on this proposed rule.
Consolidation of Notices
For administrative purposes, this document consolidates the notice of intent to establish open migratory game bird hunting seasons, the request for tribal proposals, and the request for Alaska migratory bird subsistence seasons with the preliminary proposals for the annual hunting regulations-development process. We will publish the remaining proposed and final rulemaking documents separately. For inquiries on tribal guidelines and proposals, tribes should contact the following personnel:
Region 1 (Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands)—Nanette Seto, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 911 NE. 11th Avenue, Portland, OR 97232-4181; (503) 231-6164.
Region 2 (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas)—Greg Hughes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque, NM 87103; (505) 248-7885.
Region 3 (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin)—Dave Scott, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5600 American Blvd. West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437-1458; (612) 713-5101.
Region 4 (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands, South Carolina, and Tennessee)—Laurel Barnhill, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1875 Century Boulevard, Room 324, Atlanta, GA 30345; (404) 679-4000.
Region 5 (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia)—Pam Toschik, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 300 Westgate Center Drive, Hadley, MA 01035-9589; (413) 253-8610.
Region 6 (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming)—Casey Stemler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 25486, Denver Federal Building, Denver, CO 80225; (303) 236-8145.
Region 7 (Alaska)—Pete Probasco, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503; (907) 786-3423.
Region 8 (California and Nevada)—U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825-1846; (916) 414-6727.
Requests for Tribal Proposals
Beginning with the 1985-86 hunting season, we have employed guidelines described in the June 4, 1985, Federal Register (50 FR 23467) to establish special migratory game bird hunting regulations on Federal Indian reservations (including off-reservation trust lands) and ceded lands. We developed these guidelines in response to tribal requests for our recognition of their reserved hunting rights, and for some tribes, recognition of their authority to regulate hunting by both tribal and nontribal members throughout their reservations. The guidelines include possibilities for:
(1) On-reservation hunting by both tribal and nontribal members, with hunting by nontribal members on some reservations to take place within Federal frameworks, but on dates different from those selected by the surrounding State(s);
(2) On-reservation hunting by tribal members only, outside of usual Federal frameworks for season dates and length, and for daily bag and possession limits; and
(3) Off-reservation hunting by tribal members on ceded lands, outside of usual framework dates and season length, with some added flexibility in daily bag and possession limits.
In all cases, tribal regulations established under the guidelines must be consistent with the annual March 10 to September 1 closed season mandated by the 1916 Convention Between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds (Convention). The guidelines are applicable to those tribes that have reserved hunting rights on Federal Indian reservations (including off-reservation trust lands) and ceded lands. They also may be applied to the establishment of migratory game bird hunting regulations for nontribal members on all lands within the exterior boundaries of reservations where tribes have full wildlife management authority over such hunting, or where the tribes and affected States otherwise have reached Start Printed Page 19855agreement over hunting by nontribal members on non-Indian lands.
Tribes usually have the authority to regulate migratory game bird hunting by nonmembers on Indian-owned reservation lands, subject to our approval. The question of jurisdiction is more complex on reservations that include lands owned by non-Indians, especially when the surrounding States have established or intend to establish regulations governing migratory bird hunting by non-Indians on these lands. In such cases, we encourage the tribes and States to reach agreement on regulations that would apply throughout the reservations. When appropriate, we will consult with a tribe and State with the aim of facilitating an accord. We also will consult jointly with tribal and State officials in the affected States where tribes may wish to establish special hunting regulations for tribal members on ceded lands. It is incumbent upon the tribe and/or the State to request consultation as a result of the proposal being published in the Federal Register. We will not presume to make a determination, without being advised by either a tribe or a State, that any issue is or is not worthy of formal consultation.
One of the guidelines provides for the continuation of tribal members' harvest of migratory game birds on reservations where such harvest is a customary practice. We do not oppose this harvest, provided it does not take place during the closed season required by the Convention, and it is not so large as to adversely affect the status of the migratory game bird resource. Since the inception of these guidelines, we have reached annual agreement with tribes for migratory game bird hunting by tribal members on their lands or on lands where they have reserved hunting rights. We will continue to consult with tribes that wish to reach a mutual agreement on hunting regulations for on-reservation hunting by tribal members.
Tribes should not view the guidelines as inflexible. We believe that they provide appropriate opportunity to accommodate the reserved hunting rights and management authority of Indian tribes while also ensuring that the migratory game bird resource receives necessary protection. The conservation of this important international resource is paramount. Use of the guidelines is not required if a tribe wishes to observe the hunting regulations established by the State(s) in which the reservation is located.
Details Needed in Tribal Proposals
Tribes that wish to use the guidelines to establish special hunting regulations for the 2015-16 migratory game bird hunting season should submit a proposal that includes:
(1) The requested migratory game bird hunting season dates and other details regarding the proposed regulations;
(2) Harvest anticipated under the proposed regulations; and
(3) Tribal capabilities to enforce migratory game bird hunting regulations.
For those situations where it could be shown that failure to limit Tribal harvest could seriously impact the migratory game bird resource, we also request information on the methods employed to monitor harvest and any potential steps taken to limit level of harvest.
A tribe that desires the earliest possible opening of the migratory game bird season for nontribal members should specify this request in its proposal, rather than request a date that might not be within the final Federal frameworks. Similarly, unless a tribe wishes to set more restrictive regulations than Federal regulations will permit for nontribal members, the proposal should request the same daily bag and possession limits and season length for migratory game birds that Federal regulations are likely to permit the States in the Flyway in which the reservation is located.
Tribal Proposal Procedures
We will publish details of tribal proposals for public review in later Federal Register documents. Because of the time required for review by us and the public, Indian tribes that desire special migratory game bird hunting regulations for the 2015-16 hunting season should submit their proposals as soon as possible, but no later than June 5, 2015.
Tribes should direct inquiries regarding the guidelines and proposals to the appropriate Service Regional Office listed above under the caption Consolidation of Notices. Tribes that request special migratory game bird hunting regulations for tribal members on ceded lands should send a courtesy copy of the proposal to officials in the affected State(s).
The Department of the Interior's policy is, whenever practicable, to afford the public an opportunity to participate in the rulemaking process. Accordingly, we invite interested persons to submit written comments, suggestions, or recommendations regarding the proposed regulations. Before promulgation of final migratory game bird hunting regulations, we will take into consideration all comments we receive. Such comments, and any additional information we receive, may lead to final regulations that differ from these proposals.
You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. We will not accept comments sent by email or fax or to an address not listed in the ADDRESSES section. Finally, we will not consider hand-delivered comments that we do not receive, or mailed comments that are not postmarked, by the date specified in the DATES section.
We will post all comments in their entirety—including your personal identifying information—on http://www.regulations.gov. Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware that your entire comment—including your personal identifying information—may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.
Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Migratory Bird Management, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041.
For each series of proposed rulemakings, we will establish specific comment periods. We will consider, but may not respond in detail to, each comment. As in the past, we will summarize all comments we receive during the comment period and respond to them after the closing date in any final rules.
The programmatic document, “Second Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Issuance of Annual Regulations Permitting the Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds (EIS 20130139),” filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on May 24, 2013, addresses NEPA compliance by the Service for issuance of the annual framework regulations for hunting of migratory game bird species. We Start Printed Page 19856published a notice of availability in the Federal Register on May 31, 2013 (78 FR 32686), and our Record of Decision on July 26, 2013 (78 FR 45376). We also address NEPA compliance for waterfowl hunting frameworks through the annual preparation of separate environmental assessments, the most recent being “Duck Hunting Regulations for 2014-15,” with its corresponding August 21, 2014, finding of no significant impact. In addition, an August 1985 environmental assessment entitled “Guidelines for Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations on Federal Indian Reservations and Ceded Lands” is available from the address indicated under the caption FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT.
Endangered Species Act Consideration
Before issuance of the 2015-16 migratory game bird hunting regulations, we will comply with provisions of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531-1543; hereinafter the Act), to ensure that hunting is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any species designated as endangered or threatened or modify or destroy its critical habitat and is consistent with conservation programs for those species. Consultations under section 7 of the Act may cause us to change proposals in this and future supplemental proposed rulemaking documents.
Regulatory Planning and Review (Executive Orders 12866 and 13563)
Executive Order (E.O.) 12866 provides that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will review all significant rules. OIRA has reviewed this rule and has determined that this rule is significant because it would have an annual effect of $100 million or more on the economy.
E.O. 13563 reaffirms the principles of E.O. 12866 while calling for improvements in the nation's regulatory system to promote predictability, to reduce uncertainty, and to use the best, most innovative, and least burdensome tools for achieving regulatory ends. The executive order directs agencies to consider regulatory approaches that reduce burdens and maintain flexibility and freedom of choice for the public where these approaches are relevant, feasible, and consistent with regulatory objectives. E.O. 13563 emphasizes further that regulations must be based on the best available science and that the rulemaking process must allow for public participation and an open exchange of ideas. We have developed this rule in a manner consistent with these requirements.
An economic analysis was prepared for the 2013-14 season. This analysis was based on data from the 2011 National Hunting and Fishing Survey, the most recent year for which data are available (see discussion in Regulatory Flexibility Act section below). We will use this analysis again for the 2015-16 season. This analysis estimated consumer surplus for three alternatives for duck hunting (estimates for other species are not quantified due to lack of data). The alternatives are (1) issue restrictive regulations allowing fewer days than those issued during the 2012-13 season, (2) issue moderate regulations allowing more days than those in alternative 1, and (3) issue liberal regulations identical to the regulations in the 2012-13 season. For the 2013-14 season, we chose Alternative 3, with an estimated consumer surplus across all flyways of $317.8-$416.8 million. We also chose alternative 3 for the 2009-10, the 2010-11, the 2011-12, the 2012-13, and the 2014-15 seasons. The 2013-14 analysis is part of the record for this rule and is available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2014-0064.
Regulatory Flexibility Act
The annual migratory bird hunting regulations have a significant economic impact on substantial numbers of small entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.). We analyzed the economic impacts of the annual hunting regulations on small business entities in detail as part of the 1981 cost-benefit analysis. This analysis was revised annually from 1990-95. In 1995, the Service issued a Small Entity Flexibility Analysis (Analysis), which was subsequently updated in 1996, 1998, 2004, 2008, and 2013. The primary source of information about hunter expenditures for migratory game bird hunting is the National Hunting and Fishing Survey, which is conducted at 5-year intervals. The 2013 Analysis was based on the 2011 National Hunting and Fishing Survey and the U.S. Department of Commerce's County Business Patterns, from which it was estimated that migratory bird hunters would spend approximately $1.5 billion at small businesses in 2013. Copies of the Analysis are available upon request from the Division of Migratory Bird Management (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT) or from our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/NewReportsPublications/SpecialTopics/SpecialTopics.html#HuntingRegs or at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2014-0064.
Clarity of the Rule
We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must:
(a) Be logically organized;
(b) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
(c) Use clear language rather than jargon;
(d) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
(e) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one of the methods listed in the ADDRESSES section. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc.
Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act
This proposed rule is a major rule under 5 U.S.C. 804(2), the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act. For the reasons outlined above, this rule would have an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more. However, because this rule would establish hunting seasons, we do not plan to defer the effective date under the exemption contained in 5 U.S.C. 808(1).
Paperwork Reduction Act
This proposed rule does not contain any new information collection that requires approval under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). We may not conduct or sponsor and you are not required to respond to a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number. OMB has reviewed and approved the information collection requirements associated with migratory bird surveys and assigned the following OMB control numbers:
- 1018-0019—North American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey (expires 4/30/2015).
- 1018-0023—Migratory Bird Surveys (expires 6/30/2017). Includes Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program, Migratory Bird Hunter Surveys, Sandhill Crane Survey, and Parts Collection Survey.
- 1018-0124—Alaska Migratory Bird Subsistence Harvest Household Survey (expires 6/30/2016).Start Printed Page 19857
Unfunded Mandates Reform Act
We have determined and certify, in compliance with the requirements of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, 2 U.S.C. 1502 et seq., that this proposed rulemaking would not impose a cost of $100 million or more in any given year on local or State government or private entities. Therefore, this rule is not a “significant regulatory action” under the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.
The Department, in promulgating this proposed rule, has determined that this proposed rule will not unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of E.O. 12988.
Takings Implication Assessment
In accordance with E.O. 12630, this proposed rule, authorized by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, does not have significant takings implications and does not affect any constitutionally protected property rights. This rule would not result in the physical occupancy of property, the physical invasion of property, or the regulatory taking of any property. In fact, these rules would allow hunters to exercise otherwise unavailable privileges and, therefore, reduce restrictions on the use of private and public property.
E.O. 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. While this proposed rule is a significant regulatory action under E.O. 12866, it is not expected to adversely affect energy supplies, distribution, or use. Therefore, this action is not a significant energy action and no Statement of Energy Effects is required.
Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes
In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, “Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments” (59 FR 22951), E.O. 13175, and 512 DM 2, we have evaluated possible effects on Federally-recognized Indian tribes and have determined that there are no effects on Indian trust resources. However, in this proposed rule, we solicit proposals for special migratory bird hunting regulations for certain Tribes on Federal Indian reservations, off-reservation trust lands, and ceded lands for the 2015-16 migratory bird hunting season. The resulting proposals will be contained in a separate proposed rule. By virtue of these actions, we have consulted with Tribes affected by this rule.
Due to the migratory nature of certain species of birds, the Federal Government has been given responsibility over these species by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. We annually prescribe frameworks from which the States make selections regarding the hunting of migratory birds, and we employ guidelines to establish special regulations on Federal Indian reservations and ceded lands. This process preserves the ability of the States and tribes to determine which seasons meet their individual needs. Any State or Indian tribe may be more restrictive than the Federal frameworks at any time. The frameworks are developed in a cooperative process with the States and the Flyway Councils. This process allows States to participate in the development of frameworks from which they will make selections, thereby having an influence on their own regulations. These rules do not have a substantial direct effect on fiscal capacity, change the roles or responsibilities of Federal or State governments, or intrude on State policy or administration. Therefore, in accordance with E.O. 13132, these regulations do not have significant federalism effects and do not have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a federalism summary impact statement.
Start List of Subjects
End List of Subjects
- Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
The rules that eventually will be promulgated for the 2015-16 hunting season are authorized under 16 U.S.C. 703-711, 16 U.S.C. 712, and 16 U.S.C. 742 a-j.
Dated: March 26, 2015.
Michael J. Bean,
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.
Proposed 2015-16 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations (Preliminary)
Pending current information on populations, harvest, and habitat conditions, and receipt of recommendations from the four Flyway Councils, we may defer specific regulatory proposals. No changes from the final 2014-15 frameworks established on August 28 and September 23, 2014 (79 FR 51402 and 79 FR 56864) are being proposed at this time. Other issues requiring early discussion, action, or the attention of the States or tribes are contained below:
Categories used to discuss issues related to duck harvest management are: (A) General Harvest Strategy, (B) Regulatory Alternatives, (C) Zones and Split Seasons, and (D) Special Seasons/Species Management. Only those containing substantial recommendations are discussed below.
A. General Harvest Strategy
We propose to continue using adaptive harvest management (AHM) to help determine appropriate duck-hunting regulations for the 2015-16 season. AHM permits sound resource decisions in the face of uncertain regulatory impacts and provides a mechanism for reducing that uncertainty over time. We use AHM to evaluate four alternative regulatory levels for duck hunting based on the population status of mallards. (We enact special hunting restrictions for species of special concern, such as canvasbacks, scaup, and pintails).
Pacific, Central, and Mississippi Flyways
The prescribed regulatory alternative for the Pacific, Central, and Mississippi Flyways is based on the status of mallards that contributes primarily to each Flyway. In the Pacific Flyway, we set hunting regulations based on the status and dynamics of western mallards. Western mallards are those breeding in Alaska and the northern Yukon Territory (as based on Federal surveys in strata 1-12), and in California and Oregon (as based on State-conducted surveys). In the Central and Mississippi Flyways, we set hunting regulations based on the status and dynamics of mid-continent mallards. Mid-continent mallards are those breeding in central North America (Federal survey strata 13-18, 20-50, and 75-77, and State surveys in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan).
For the 2015-16 season, we recommend continuing to use independent optimization to determine the optimal regulatory choice for each mallard stock. This means that we would develop regulations for mid-continent mallards and western mallards independently, based upon the breeding stock that contributes primarily to each Flyway. We detailed implementation of this new AHM decision framework in the July 24, 2008, Federal Register (73 FR 43290).Start Printed Page 19858
The prescribed regulatory alternative for the Atlantic Flyway is determined annually based on the population status of mallards breeding in eastern North America (Federal survey strata 51-54 and 56, and State surveys in New England and the mid-Atlantic region). In 2012, we proposed and subsequently implemented several changes related to the population models used in the eastern mallard AHM protocol (77 FR 42920; July 20, 2012). We propose continuation of the AHM process for the 2015-16 season using the revised model set to inform eastern mallard harvest regulations until a fully revised AHM protocol is finalized. Further details on the revised models and results of simulations of this interim harvest policy are available on our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds, or at http://www.regulations.gov.
Final 2015-16 AHM Protocol
We will detail the final AHM protocol for the 2015-16 season in the early-season proposed rule, which we will publish in mid-July (see 2015 Schedule of Regulations Meetings and Federal Register Publications at the end of this proposed rule for further information). We will propose a specific regulatory alternative for each of the Flyways during the 2015-16 season after survey information becomes available in late summer. More information on AHM is located at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/CurrentBirdIssues/Management/AHM/AHM-intro.htm.
B. Regulatory Alternatives
The basic structure of the current regulatory alternatives for AHM was adopted in 1997. In 2002, based upon recommendations from the Flyway Councils, we extended framework dates in the “moderate” and “liberal” regulatory alternatives by changing the opening date from the Saturday nearest October 1 to the Saturday nearest September 24, and by changing the closing date from the Sunday nearest January 20 to the last Sunday in January. These extended dates were made available with no associated penalty in season length or bag limits. At that time we stated our desire to keep these changes in place for 3 years to allow for a reasonable opportunity to monitor the impacts of framework-date extensions on harvest distribution and rates of harvest before considering any subsequent use (67 FR 12501; March 19, 2002).
For 2015-16, we are proposing to maintain the same regulatory alternatives that were in effect last year (see accompanying table for specifics of the proposed regulatory alternatives). Alternatives are specified for each Flyway and are designated as “RES” for the restrictive, “MOD” for the moderate, and “LIB” for the liberal alternative. We will announce final regulatory alternatives in mid-July. We will accept public comments until June 26, 2015, and you should send your comments to an address listed under the caption ADDRESSES.
C. Zones and Split Seasons
Zones and split seasons are “special regulations” designed to distribute hunting opportunities and harvests according to temporal, geographic, and demographic variability in waterfowl and other migratory game bird populations. For ducks, States have been allowed the option of dividing their allotted hunting days into two (or in some cases three) segments to take advantage of species-specific peaks of abundance or to satisfy hunters in different areas who want to hunt during the peak of waterfowl abundance in their area. However, the split-season option does not fully satisfy many States who wish to provide a more equitable distribution of harvest opportunities. Therefore, we also have allowed the establishment of independent seasons in up to four zones within States for the purpose of providing more equitable distribution of harvest opportunity for hunters throughout the State.
In 1978, we prepared an environmental assessment (EA) on the use of zones to set duck hunting regulations. A primary tenet of the 1978 EA was that zoning would be for the primary purpose of providing equitable distribution of duck hunting opportunities within a State or region and not for the purpose of increasing total annual waterfowl harvest in the zoned areas. In fact, target harvest levels were to be adjusted downward if they exceeded traditional levels as a result of zoning. Subsequent to the 1978 EA, we conducted a review of the use of zones and split seasons in 1990. In 2011, we prepared a new EA analyzing some specific proposed changes to the zone and split season guidelines. The current guidelines were then finalized in 2011 (76 FR 53536; August 26, 2001).
Currently, every 5 years, States are afforded the opportunity to change the zoning and split season configuration within which they set their annual duck hunting regulations. The next regularly scheduled open season for changes to zone and split season configurations will be in 2016, for use during the 2016-20 period. In 2011, we stated that in order to allow sufficient time for States to solicit public input regarding their selections of zone and split season configurations in 2016, we would reaffirm the criteria during the 2015 late-season regulations process and that States should notify us of changes to zone and split season configurations by May 1, 2016.
However, as discussed in the September 23, 2014, Federal Register (79 FR 56864), and below under 22. Other, we are implementing significant changes to the annual regulatory process as outlined in the 2013 SEIS. While we have spent considerable time the past several years contemplating and planning these changes, one issue that we did not anticipate would be a problem is the timing of the open season for duck zones and split season configurations. The previously identified May 1, 2016, due date for zone and split season configuration changes was developed under the current regulatory process, when that deadline would still allow publication of zone descriptions in the proposed rule for hunting seasons and allow for public comment.
Under the new regulatory schedule we anticipate publishing the proposed rule for all 2016-17 migratory bird seasons sometime this fall—approximately 30 days after the SRC meeting (which is tentatively scheduled for October 28-29, 2015). A final rule tentatively would be published 75 days after the proposed rule (no later than April 1). This schedule would preclude inclusion of zone descriptions in the proposed rule as had been done in past open seasons and would not be appropriate because it would preclude the ability for the public to comment on individual State zone descriptions. Therefore, we need to include proposed 2016-20 zone descriptions in the 2016-17 hunting seasons proposed rule document that will be published later this year. Obviously, this will require a zone configuration deadline much earlier than the previously identified May 1, 2016, deadline.
Considering all of the above, we have decided that a two-phase approach is appropriate. For those States wishing to change zone and split season configurations in time for the 2016-17 season, we will need to receive that new configuration and zone descriptions by December 1, 2015. States that do not send in zone and split season configuration changes until the previously identified May 1, 2016, deadline would not be able to implement those changes until the 2017-18 hunting season. While the next normally scheduled open season after 2016-17 would be 2021-22, we Start Printed Page 19859welcome State and Flyway Council comment on whether this should be pushed back to the 2022-23 season in order to allow those States not able to meet the December 1, 2015, deadline to operate under their new zone and split season configurations for 5 years rather than 4 years.
Lastly, because dove zones and split season configurations are on the same open season schedule, this revision would apply to dove zones as well (see 16. Doves for further discussion).
We apologize for this oversight. However, we will do everything we can to make this transition as smooth as possible and look forward to working with the States and Flyways on any implementation issues.
For the 2016-17 open season, the guidelines for duck zone and split season configurations are as follows:
Guidelines for Duck Zones and Split Seasons
The following zone and split-season guidelines apply only for the regular duck season:
(1) A zone is a geographic area or portion of a State, with a contiguous boundary, for which independent dates may be selected for the regular duck season.
(2) Consideration of changes for management-unit boundaries is not subject to the guidelines and provisions governing the use of zones and split seasons for ducks.
(3) Only minor (less than a county in size) boundary changes will be allowed for any grandfathered arrangement, and changes are limited to the open season.
(4) Once a zone and split option is selected during an open season, it must remain in place for the following 5 years.
Any State may continue the configuration used in the previous 5-year period. If changes are made, the zone and split-season configuration must conform to one of the following options:
(1) No more than four zones with no splits,
(2) Split seasons (no more than 3 segments) with no zones, or
(3) No more than three zones with the option for 2-way (2-segment) split seasons in one, two, or all zones.
Grandfathered Zone and Split Arrangements
When we first implemented the zone and split guidelines in 1991, several States had completed experiments with zone and split arrangements different from our original options. We offered those States a one-time opportunity to continue (“grandfather”) those arrangements, with the stipulation that only minor changes could be made to zone boundaries. If any of those States now wish to change their zone and split arrangement:
(1) The new arrangement must conform to one of the 3 options identified above; and
(2) The State cannot go back to the grandfathered arrangement that it previously had in place.
We will continue to utilize the specific limitations previously established regarding the use of zones and split seasons in special management units, including the High Plains Mallard Management Unit. We note that the original justification and objectives established for the High Plains Mallard Management Unit provided for additional days of hunting opportunity at the end of the regular duck season. In order to maintain the integrity of the management unit, current guidelines prohibit simultaneous zoning and/or 3-way split seasons within a management unit and the remainder of the State. Removal of this limitation would allow additional proliferation of zone and split configurations and compromise the original objectives of the management unit.
In 2006 (see July 28, 2006, Federal Register, 71 FR 43008), we approved guidelines for the use of zones and split seasons for doves with implementation beginning in the 2007-08 season. While the initial period was for 4 years (2007-10), we further stated that beginning in 2011, zoning would conform to a 5-year period.
The next open season for changes to dove zone and split configurations will be for the 2016-20 period. As discussed above under C. Zones and Split Seasons for ducks, because of unintentional and unanticipated issues with changing the regulatory schedule for the 2016-17 season, we have decided that a two-phase approach is appropriate. For those States wishing to change zone and split season configurations in time for the 2016-17 season, we will need to receive that new configuration and zone descriptions by December 1, 2015. States that do not send in zone and split season configuration changes until the previously identified May 1, 2016, deadline would not be able to implement those changes until the 2017-18 hunting season. While the next normally scheduled open season after 2016-17 would be 2021-22, we welcome State and Flyway Council comment on whether this should be pushed back to the 2022-23 season in order to allow those States not able to meet the December 1, 2015, deadline to operate under their new zone and split season configurations for 5 years rather than 4 years.
The guidelines are as follows:
Guidelines for Dove Zones and Split Seasons in the Eastern and Central Mourning Dove Management Units
(1) A zone is a geographic area or portion of a State, with a contiguous boundary, for which independent seasons may be selected for dove hunting.
(2) States may select a zone and split option during an open season. The option must remain in place for the following 5 years except that States may make a one-time change and revert to their previous zone and split configuration in any year of the 5-year period. Formal approval will not be required, but States must notify the Service before making the change.
(3) Zoning periods for dove hunting will conform to those years used for ducks, e.g., 2016-20.
(4) The zone and split configuration consists of two zones with the option for 3-way (3-segment) split seasons in one or both zones. As a grandfathered arrangement, Texas will have three zones with the option for 2-way (2-segment) split seasons in one, two, or all three zones.
(5) States that do not wish to zone for dove hunting may split their seasons into no more than 3 segments.
For the 2016-20 period, any State may continue the configuration used in 2011-15. If changes are made, the zone and split-season configuration must conform to one of the options listed above. If Texas uses a new configuration for the entirety of the 5-year period, it cannot go back to the grandfathered arrangement that it previously had in place.
Falconry is a permitted means of taking migratory game birds in any State meeting Federal falconry standards at 50 CFR 21.29. Currently, daily bag limits for falconry for all permitted migratory game birds must not exceed 3 birds, singly or in the aggregate, during extended falconry seasons, any special or experimental seasons, and regular hunting seasons in all States. Additionally, other general hunting regulations, including seasons and hunting hours, apply to falconry in each State listed at 50 CFR 21.29. Regular season daily bag limits do not apply to falconry and the falconry daily bag limit Start Printed Page 19860is not in addition to gun daily bag limits.
In 2008, we revised the falconry regulations at 50 CFR 21.29 (73 FR 59448; October 8, 2008). One of the revisions allowed both general and master falconers to possess more raptors taken from the wild (3 and 5, respectively, versus 2 and 3 previously). Additionally, master falconers also are allowed to possess as many captive-bred birds as they wish but these birds must be trained in the pursuit of wild game and used in hunting. Further, these revisions were implemented on a State-by-State basis. That is, the regulations provided that when a State met the requirements for operating under the new regulations, falconry permitting would then be delegated to the State. In 2013, the last remaining 17 States met the new requirements of the 2008 revisions and were added to the list of States operating under the new regulations (78 FR 72830; December 4, 2013).
Historically, we have generally linked the daily migratory game bird bag limit for falconers to the maximum number of raptors they could possess. Based on the aforementioned revisions beginning in 2008 and culminating in 2013, we believe it may be appropriate to consider changes to the falconry daily bag limits. We welcome comments from the States, Flyway Councils, and the general public on the issue.
In a July 26, 2013, Federal Register (78 FR 45376), the Service issued its Record of Decision (ROD) for the migratory bird hunting program, prepared pursuant to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) regulations at 40 CFR 1505.2. An integral component of that ROD was the decision to promulgate annual migratory bird hunting regulations using a single process for early and late seasons based on predictions derived from long-term biological information and established harvest strategies. We believe this single process is the most effective alternative for addressing key issues identified during the planning process and will best achieve the purposes and goals of the Service and States. At that time, we stated that implementation of the new process was targeted for the 2015-16 regulations cycle.
In the April 30, 2014, proposed rule (79 FR 24512) we discussed how under this new process, the current early and late season regulatory actions will be combined into a new single process. Regulatory proposals will be developed using biological data from the preceding year(s), model predictions, or most recently accumulated data that are available at the time the proposals are being formulated. Individual harvest strategies will be modified using data from the previous year(s) because the current year's data would not be available for many of the strategies. Some technical work will be necessary over a period of years to adjust the underlying biological models to the new regulatory time scale. During this transition period, harvest strategies and prescriptions will be modified to fit into the new regulatory schedule. These adjustments could be accomplished immediately upon adoption of the new process. Many existing regulatory prescriptions used for Canada geese, sandhill cranes, mourning doves, and American woodcock currently work on this basis. The process will be somewhat less precise in some instances because population projections would be used instead of current-year status information. However, the uncertainty associated with these predictions will be accounted for through the adaptive management process. This uncertainty is not expected to result in a disproportionately higher harvest rate for any stock, nor is it likely to substantially diminish harvest opportunities, either annually or on a cumulative basis. Reducing the number of meetings could lower administrative costs by 40 percent per year and substantially lower the Service's carbon footprint due to a decrease in travel and a reduction in the costs associated with the additional meetings.
Obviously, under this new process, the administrative, meeting, and Federal Register schedule will all change significantly. In the ROD, we described a meeting schedule consisting of SRC regulatory meetings in March or April. At the latest, proposed frameworks would be available for public review by early June and final frameworks published by mid-August. The new schedule also allows 30-60 days for public input and comments (currently, the comment period can be as short as 10 days). Further, the ROD stated that the four Flyway Councils may need to meet only once instead of twice per year, and the SRC would meet twice a year, once sometime during fall or early winter (September through January) and once thereafter, instead of the three times they currently convene.
Over the last year we have worked with the Flyway Councils on a number of administrative, meeting, and Federal Register schedule timing options to implement the new regulatory process. As we stated in the September 23, 2014, final rule (79 FR 56864), these discussions have led us to a mutually agreeable regulatory schedule that begins earlier than was envisioned in the ROD. We plan to implement the new regulatory schedule this summer when the regulatory cycle begins for the 2016-17 hunting seasons. As a benefit to the public, we will again review and discuss these changes here before their implementation this summer because of the significantly different regulatory schedule and the fact that the process will begin much earlier than that currently utilized.
Major steps in the 2016-17 regulatory cycle relating to biological information availability, open public meetings, and Federal Register notifications are illustrated in the diagram at the end of this rule. Dates, including survey and assessment information and publications of Federal Register documents are target dates largely consisting of either specific targets or target windows. Additional information on meeting dates and locations will be provided later this year with publication of specific meeting notices and the proposed rulemaking for the 2016-17 hunting seasons.
In summary, the 2016-17 regulatory schedule would begin in mid-June 2015 with the first SRC meeting of the forthcoming year. Flyway technical sections and councils would then meet in September and early October following the release of the waterfowl and webless population status reports in mid-August and the AHM report in early September. After the last Flyway Council meeting, the SRC and Flyway Council Consultants would meet to review information on the current status of migratory shore and upland game birds and waterfowl and develop recommendations for the 2016-17 regulations for these species. Proposed season frameworks, a 30-day public comment period, and final season frameworks would then culminate with publication of all migratory game bird hunting seasons in late May to mid-June of 2016 for the 2016-17 hunting seasons.
As we previously stated, however, there will remain some technical work necessary over a period of years to adjust the underlying biological models to the new regulatory time scale. We look forward to continuing work on these issues with the Flyway Councils. For a more detailed discussion of the various technical aspects of the new process, we refer the reader to the 2013 SEIS available on our Web site at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds.
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[FR Doc. 2015-08152 Filed 4-10-15; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4310-55-C