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Proposed Rule

Migratory Bird Hunting; Proposed 2021-22 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations (Preliminary) With Requests for Indian Tribal Proposals; Notification of Meetings

This document has a comment period that ends in 12 days. (11/09/2020) Submit a formal comment

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Start Preamble Start Printed Page 64097

AGENCY:

Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION:

Proposed rule; availability of supplemental information.

SUMMARY:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or we) proposes to establish annual hunting regulations for certain migratory game birds for the 2021-22 hunting season. We annually prescribe outside limits (frameworks) within which States may select hunting seasons. This proposed rule provides the regulatory schedule, announces the Service Migratory Bird Regulations Committee (SRC) and Flyway Council meetings, describes the proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2021-22 general duck seasons and preliminary proposals that vary from the 2020-21 hunting season regulations, and requests proposals from Indian tribes that wish to establish special migratory game bird hunting regulations on Federal Indian reservations and ceded lands. Migratory 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.

DATES:

Comments: You may comment on the general duck season regulatory alternatives and other preliminary proposals for the 2021-22 season until November 9, 2020. Tribes must submit proposals and related comments on or before December 1, 2020. See Schedule of Biological Information Availability, Regulations Meetings and Federal Register Publications for the 2021-22 Hunting Season at the end of this proposed rule for further information.

Meetings: The SRC will meet on October 20-21, 2020, to consider and develop proposed regulations for the 2021-22 migratory game bird hunting seasons. Meetings on both days will commence at approximately 11:00 a.m. (Eastern) and are open to the public.

ADDRESSES:

Comments: 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-2020-0032.
  • U.S. mail: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0032; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; MS: PRB/3W; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

We will not accept emailed or faxed comments. We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. See Public Comments, below, for more information.

Meetings: The October 20-21, 2020, SRC meeting will be conducted telephonically with or without the aid of video technology. The meeting is open to the public. Meeting details and opportunities for the public to listen to and observe the meeting will be posted at https://www.fws.gov/​birds when they become available.

Accommodation requests: The Service is committed to providing access to the SRC meeting for all participants and observers. Please direct all requests for sign language interpreting services, closed captioning, or other accommodation needs to the person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT by close of business on October 1, 2020. If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the Federal Relay Service at 800-877-8339.

Start Further Info

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jerome Ford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, (202) 208-1050.

End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Process for Establishing Annual Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations

As part of the Department of the Interior's 2015 retrospective regulatory review, we changed our process for developing migratory game bird hunting regulations with the goal of enabling the State agencies to select and publish their season dates earlier than was allowed under the prior process. We provided a detailed overview of this process in the August 6, 2015, Federal Register (80 FR 47388). This proposed rule is the first in a series of proposed and final rules that establish regulations for the 2021-22 migratory bird hunting season.

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 such bird, or any part, nest, or egg” of migratory game birds can take place, and to adopt regulations for this purpose (16 U.S.C. 704(a)). 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” (16 U.S.C. 704(a)), and are updated annually. 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 bird management is a cooperative effort of Federal, State, and tribal 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 United States 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 within the Flyway, as well as Provinces in Canada that share migratory bird populations with the Flyway. The Flyway Councils, established through the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, also assist in researching and providing migratory game bird management information for Federal, State, and Provincial governments, as well as private conservation entities and the general public.

The process for adopting migratory game bird hunting regulations (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.Start Printed Page 64098

For the regulatory 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 migratory 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, condition of breeding and wintering habitat, number of hunters, and 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.

Service Migratory Bird Regulations Committee Meetings

The SRC conducted an open meeting on April 28, 2020, to discuss preliminary issues for the 2021-22 regulations, and will conduct another meeting on October 14-15, 2020, to review information on the current status of migratory game birds and develop 2021-22 migratory game bird regulations recommendations for these species. In accordance with Departmental policy, these meetings are open to public observation. You may submit written comments to the Service on the matters discussed. See DATES and ADDRESSES for information about these meetings.

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 2021-22 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 2021-22 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 2021-22 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations (Preliminary) in this document. We annually publish definitions of flyways and management units, and a description of the data used in and the factors affecting the regulatory process in proposed and final rules later in the regulations development process (see March 19, 2020, Federal Register, 85 FR 15870, for the latest definitions and descriptions).

Regulatory Schedule for 2021-22

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. Major steps in the 2021-22 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:

1. Ducks

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

iv. Canvasbacks

v. Pintails

vi. Scaup

vii. Mottled Ducks

viii. Wood Ducks

ix. Youth and Veterans-Active Military Personnel Hunting Days

x. Mallard Management Units

xi. Other

2. Sea Ducks

3. Mergansers

4. Canada Geese

A. Special Early Seasons

B. Regular Seasons

C. Special Late Seasons

5. White-fronted Geese

6. Brant

7. Snow and Ross's (Light) Geese

8. Swans

9. Sandhill Cranes

10. Coots

11. Moorhens and Gallinules

12. Rails

13. Snipe

14. Woodcock

15. Band-tailed Pigeons

16. Doves

17. Alaska

18. Hawaii

19. Puerto Rico

20. Virgin Islands

21. Falconry

22. Other

This and subsequent documents will refer only to numbered items requiring attention. We will omit those items not requiring attention, and remaining numbered items may be discontinuous and appear incomplete.

The proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2021-22 duck hunting seasons are contained at the end of this document. We plan to publish final regulatory alternatives for duck seasons about mid-September 2020, proposed season frameworks about mid-December 2020, and final season frameworks about late February 2021.

Review of Public Comments

This proposed rulemaking contains the proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2021-22 general duck hunting seasons. This proposed rulemaking also describes other recommended changes or specific preliminary proposals that vary from the 2020-21 regulations 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 2021-22 season. We seek additional information and comments on this proposed rule.

Consolidation of Rulemaking Documents

For administrative purposes, this document consolidates the notice of our intent to establish open migratory game bird hunting seasons and the request for tribal proposals 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:

Tina Chouinard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 606 Browns Church Road, Jackson, TN 38305; 731-432-0981; tina_chouinard@fws.gov.

Requests for Tribal Proposals

Background

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 Start Printed Page 64099to 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, season length, and 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 11 to August 31 closed season mandated by the 1916 Convention Between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds, as amended by the Protocol Between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America Amending the 1916 Convention Between the United Kingdom and the United States of America for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Canada and the United States. 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 agreement 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 are supportive of 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. These guidelines 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 2021-22 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 limited capabilities to enforce regulations could result in harvest levels that significantly impact the migratory game bird resource, we also request information on the methods employed to monitor harvest and any potential measures to limit harvest level.

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 limit, possession limit, and season length for migratory game birds that Federal regulations are likely to permit for 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 2021-22 hunting season should submit their proposals no later than December 1, 2020. Tribes should direct inquiries regarding the guidelines and proposals to the person listed above under the caption Consolidation of Rulemaking Documents. 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).

Public Comments

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 proposed rules.

You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We will not accept comments sent by email or fax or to an address not listed in ADDRESSES. Finally, we will not consider mailed comments that are not postmarked by the date specified in DATES. 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 Start Printed Page 64100information 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.

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.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Consideration

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 published 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 2020-21,” with its corresponding June 2020 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 person listed above under the caption Consolidation of Rulemaking Documents.

Endangered Species Act Consideration

Before issuance of the 2021-22 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 adversely 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 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 will 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. E.O. 13563 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 2021-22 season. This analysis was based on data from the 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (National Survey), the most recent year for which data are available (see discussion under Regulatory Flexibility Act, below). This analysis estimated consumer surplus for three alternatives for duck hunting regulations. As defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget in Circular A-4, consumers' surplus is the difference between what a consumer pays for a unit of a good or service and the maximum amount the consumer would be willing to pay for that unit (U.S. Office of Management and Budget page 19, 2003). The duck hunting regulatory alternatives are (1) issue restrictive regulations allowing fewer days than those issued during the 2020-21 season, (2) issue moderate regulations allowing more days than those in alternative 1, and (3) issue liberal regulations similar to the regulations in the 2020-21 season. For the 2020-21 season, we chose Alternative 3, with an estimated consumer surplus across all flyways of $263-$347 million with a mid-point estimate of $305 million. We also chose alternative 3 for the 2009-10 through 2020-21 seasons. The 2021-22 analysis is part of the record for this rule and is available at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0032.

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 through 1995. In 1995, the Service issued a Small Entity Flexibility Analysis (Analysis), which was subsequently updated in 1996, 1998, 2004, 2008, 2013, 2018, 2019, and 2020. The primary source of information about hunter expenditures for migratory game bird hunting is the National Survey, which is generally conducted at 5-year intervals. The 2020 Analysis is based on the 2016 National Survey and the U.S. Department of Commerce's County Business Patterns, from which it was estimated that migratory bird hunters would spend approximately $2.1 billion at small businesses in 2020. Copies of the analysis are available upon request from the Division of Migratory Bird Management (see ADDRESSES) or from http://www.regulations.gov at Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2020-0032.

Clarity of the Rule

We are required by E.O. 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 ADDRESSES. 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.Start Printed Page 64101

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, which are time sensitive, we do not plan to defer the effective date under the exemption contained in 5 U.S.C. 808(1).

Paperwork Reduction Act

This rule does not contain any new collection of information that requires approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.). OMB has previously approved the information collection requirements associated with migratory bird surveys and the procedures for establishing annual migratory bird hunting seasons under the following OMB control numbers:

  • 1018-0019, “North American Woodcock Singing Ground Survey” (expires 06/30/2021).
  • 1018-0023, “Migratory Bird Surveys, 50 CFR 20.20” (expires 04/30/2023). Includes Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program, Migratory Bird Hunter Surveys, Sandhill Crane Survey, and Parts Collection Survey.
  • 1018-0171, “Establishment of Annual Migratory Bird Hunting Seasons, 50 CFR part 20” (expires 06/30/2021).

You may view the information collection request(s) at http://www.reginfo.gov/​public/​do/​PRAMain. An agency may not conduct or sponsor, and a person is not required to respond to, a collection of information unless it displays a currently valid OMB control number.

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.

Civil Justice Reform—Executive Order 12988

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, this rule would allow hunters to exercise otherwise unavailable privileges and, therefore, would reduce restrictions on the use of private and public property.

Energy Effects—Executive Order 13211

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 de minimis 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 2021-22 migratory bird hunting season. The resulting proposals will be contained in a separate proposed rule published in spring and final rule published in summer 2021. Through this process to establish annual hunting regulations, we regularly coordinate with tribes that would be affected by this rule.

Federalism Effects

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 in its regulations 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.

Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs—Executive Order 13771

This proposed rule is not expected to be subject to the requirements of E.O. 13771 (82 FR 9339, February 3, 2017) because this proposed rule is expected to establish annual harvest limits related to routine hunting or fishing.

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 20

  • Exports
  • Hunting
  • Imports
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
  • Transportation
  • Wildlife
End List of Subjects

Authority

The rules that eventually will be promulgated for the 2021-22 hunting season are authorized under 16 U.S.C. 703-711, 712, and 742 a-j.

Start Signature

George Wallace,

Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

End Signature

Proposed 2021-22 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. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, several annual monitoring activities that provide information used in developing regulatory recommendations have been temporarily cancelled or otherwise impacted. We intend to follow existing harvest management strategies to the extent possible, although some modifications will be necessary due to the absence of status information for 2020 for many species and populations of game birds. Service staff are in the process of developing adjustments to Start Printed Page 64102the strategies to accommodate this issue. Given the recent cancellations, we cannot provide specific changes at this time, but will detail the changes in subsequent rulemaking and notices published in the Federal Register. Issues requiring early discussion, action, or the attention of the States or tribes are described below.

1. Ducks

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 categories containing substantial recommendations are discussed below.

A. General Harvest Strategy

We will continue to use adaptive harvest management (AHM) to help determine appropriate duck-hunting regulations for the 2021-22 season. AHM is a tool that permits sound resource decisions in the face of uncertain regulatory impacts and provides a mechanism for reducing that uncertainty over time. We use an AHM protocol (decision framework) to evaluate four regulatory alternatives, each with a different expected harvest level, and choose the optimal regulation for duck hunting based on the status and demographics of mallards for the Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways, and based on the status and demographics of a suite of four species (eastern waterfowl) in the Atlantic Flyway. We have specific AHM protocols that guide appropriate bag limits and season lengths for species of special concern, including black ducks, scaup, and pintails, within the general duck season. These protocols use the same outside season dates and lengths as those regulatory alternatives for the 2021-22 general duck seasons.

For the 2021-22 hunting season, we will continue to use independent optimizations to determine the appropriate regulatory alternative for mallard stocks in the Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways and for eastern waterfowl in the Atlantic Flyway. This means that we will develop regulations for mid-continent mallards, western mallards, and eastern waterfowl independently based on the breeding stock that contributes primarily to each Flyway. We detailed implementation of AHM protocols for mid-continent and western mallards in the July 24, 2008, Federal Register (73 FR 43290), and for eastern waterfowl in the September 21, 2018, Federal Register (83 FR 47868).

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and associated travel restrictions and human health concerns in the United States and Canada, certain migratory bird monitoring surveys have been cancelled in 2020. This includes the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, which provides status information for many species of waterfowl, including those used in our AHM protocols. Consequently, in some cases, we will need to deviate from our AHM protocols and other decision processes to address missing data from 2020. We will adjust our AHM protocols and decision tools for general duck seasons and species of concern, including pintails, scaup, black ducks, canvasbacks, and wood ducks only to the extent necessary to inform the regulatory decisions for the 2021-22 season. For existing AHM protocols, we propose to use the strategy for each flyway, but use the long-term data and models to predict 2020 spring abundances of ducks and habitat conditions in place of the spring 2020 data, which will not be available. The predicted 2020 breeding populations would be overlaid on the 2019 policies (i.e., the 2019-20 matrix of breeding population and pond counts) to develop recommendations for the 2021-22 hunting season. For other decision support tools such as those used for canvasback and blue-winged teal, similar to AHM protocols, we will develop statistical predictions of the 2020 spring abundance of these species to inform harvest regulation decisions for the 2021-22 hunting season. We will work cooperatively with the Flyway Councils as we develop a plan for addressing missing data in regulatory decision-making for the 2021-22 hunting season, and will post specific details about deviations from our AHM protocols and decision support tools on our website at https://www.fws.gov/​birds when they become available.

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. In 2018, we adopted a closing duck framework date of January 31 for the “moderate” and “liberal” alternatives in the Atlantic Flyway as part of the Atlantic Flyway's eastern waterfowl AHM protocol (83 FR 47868; September 21, 2018). We subsequently extended the framework closing date to January 31 across all four Flyways for the 2019-20 hunting season (84 FR 16152; April 17, 2019).

More recently, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act of 2019 (Pub. L. 116-9) amended the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to establish that the closing framework date for duck seasons will be January 31, unless a flyway chooses an earlier closing date. Thus, in 2019, as directed by the Dingell Act, we adjusted the framework closing date under each regulatory alternative for all four Flyways to January 31 (84 FR 42996; August 19, 2019). In 2020, we agreed to move the opening framework date to one week earlier in the restrictive regulatory alternative for the Mississippi and Central Flyways beginning with the 2021-22 season based on their recommendations (85 FR 15870; March 19, 2020).

For the 2021-22 general duck season, we propose to utilize the same regulatory alternatives that are in effect for the 2020-21 season, with the exceptions noted above (see table at the end of this proposed rule for specifics of the 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 finalize AHM regulatory alternatives for the 2021-22 season in the supplemental proposed rule, which we will publish about mid-September (see Schedule of Biological Information Availability, Regulations Meetings and Federal Register Publications for the 2021-22 Hunting Season at the end of this proposed rule for further information). We will propose a specific regulatory alternative in or around December 2020 for each of the Flyways to use for their 2021-22 seasons after status information and results from analytical adjustments to strategies become available in about late August 2020.

D. Special Seasons/Species Management

xi. Other

For the Atlantic Flyway, under the eastern waterfowl AHM protocol for the Atlantic Flyway, the mallard bag limit is not prescribed by the regulatory alternative, but is instead based on a separate assessment of the harvest potential of eastern mallards. We will Start Printed Page 64103propose a specific mallard bag limit for the Atlantic Flyway in or around December 2020.

Also, although not part of any current harvest management strategy, we propose to allow South Dakota and Nebraska to conduct a pilot study during the 2021-22 duck season of a two-tier license system as described in the March 19, 2020, proposed rule (85 FR 15870). The intent of the two-tier license study is to evaluate whether regulations that relax hunters' requirement to identify duck species can improve waterfowl hunter recruitment and retention. Declines in waterfowl hunter numbers have been of concern to the Service and the Flyway Councils, prompting the development of recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) efforts in the conservation community. The study would allow each person to obtain one of two license types during the duck season. The first license type would allow a daily bag limit as specified in the current duck regulations (six birds), along with attendant species and sex restrictions. The second license type would allow a daily bag limit of only three ducks, but they could be of any species or sex. Additional years of study would be contingent on whether results from this first duck season warrant additional investigation. Memoranda of agreement between the Service and the two States are being developed to specify the purpose of the study and the roles and responsibilities of each party while conducting the pilot study.

14. Woodcock

We propose to change the opening framework date for American woodcock in the Eastern and Central Management Regions to a fixed date of September 13. Framework dates currently are October 1-January 31 and the Saturday nearest September 22-January 31 for the Eastern and Central Management Regions, respectively. Results from an assessment conducted by Service staff suggest that total season harvest would not increase in either management region as a result of these changes. The assessment can be obtained by contacting the person listed under FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT. The American Woodcock Harvest Strategy is available on our website at https://www.fws.gov/​birds/​surveys-and-data/​webless-migratory-game-birds/​american-woodcock.php.

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End Supplemental Information

BILLING CODE 4333-15-P

[FR Doc. 2020-22459 Filed 10-6-20; 4:15 pm]

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