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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 20

RIN 1018-AV12

Migratory Bird Hunting; Final Frameworks for Late-Season Migratory Bird Hunting Regulations

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or we) prescribes final late-season frameworks from which States may select season dates, limits, and other options for the 2007-08 migratory bird hunting seasons. These late seasons include most waterfowl seasons, the earliest of which commences on September 22, 2007. The effect of this final rule is to facilitate the States'( selection of hunting seasons and to further the annual establishment of the late-season migratory bird hunting regulations.
DATES: This rule takes effect on September 20, 2007.
ADDRESSES: States should send their season selections to: Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms MBSP-4107-ARLSQ, 1849 C Street, NW., Washington, DC 20240. You may inspect comments during normal business hours at our office in room 4107, 4501 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Robert Blohm, Chief, or Ron W. Kokel, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (703) 358-1714.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Regulations Schedule for 2007

On April 11, 2007, we published in theFederal Register(72 FR 18328) a proposal to amend 50 CFR part 20. The proposal provided a background and overview of the migratory bird hunting regulations process, and dealt with the establishment of seasons, limits, proposed regulatory alternatives for the 2007-08 duck hunting season, and other regulations for hunting migratory game birds under §§ 20.101 through 20.107, 20.109, and 20.110 of subpart K. Major steps in the 2007-08 regulatory cycle relating to open public meetings andFederal Registernotifications were also identified in the April 11 proposed rule.

On June 8, 2007, we published in theFederal Register(72 FR 31789) a second document providing supplemental proposals for early- and late-season migratory bird hunting regulations and the regulatory alternatives for the 2007-08 duck hunting season. The June 8 supplement also provided detailed information on the 2007-08 regulatory schedule and announced the Service Migratory Bird Regulations Committee (SRC) and Flyway Council meetings.

On June 20 and 21, we held open meetings with the Flyway Council Consultants, at which the participants reviewed information on the current status of migratory shore and upland game birds and developed recommendations for the 2007-08 regulations for these species plus regulations for migratory game birds in Alaska, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands; special September waterfowl seasons in designated States; special sea duck seasons in the Atlantic Flyway; and extended falconry seasons. In addition, we reviewed and discussed preliminary information on the status of waterfowl as it relates to the development and selection of the regulatory packages for the 2007-08 regular waterfowl seasons. On July 23, 2007, we published in theFederal Register(72 FR 40194) a third document specifically dealing with the proposed frameworks for early-season regulations. In the August 28, 2007,Federal Register(72 FR 49622), we published final frameworks for early migratory bird hunting seasons from which wildlife conservation agency officials from the States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands selected 2007-08 early-season hunting dates, hours, areas, and limits. On August 30, 2007, we published a final rule in theFederal Register(72 FR 50164) amending subpart K of title 50 CFR part 20 to set hunting seasons, hours, areas, and limits for early seasons.

On August 1-2, 2007, we held open meetings with the Flyway Council Consultants, at which the participants reviewed the status of waterfowl and developed recommendations for the 2007-08 regulations for these species. On August 31, 2007, we published in theFederal Register(72 FR 50613) the proposed frameworks for the 2007-08 late-season migratory bird hunting regulations. This document establishes final frameworks for late-season migratory bird hunting regulations for the 2007-08 season. We will publish State selections in theFederal Registeras amendments to §§ 20.101 through 20.107, and 20.109 of title 50 CFR part 20.

Population Status and Harvest

A brief summary of information on the status and harvest of waterfowl excerpted from various reports was included in the August 31 supplemental proposed rule. For more detailed information on methodologies and results, complete copies of the various reports are available at the address indicated underADDRESSESor from our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/reports.html.

Review of Public Comments and Flyway Council Recommendations

The preliminary proposed rulemaking, which appeared in the April 11, 2007,Federal Register, opened the public comment period for migratory game bird hunting regulations. The supplemental proposed rule, which appeared in the June 8, 2007,Federal Register, discussed the regulatory alternatives for the 2007-08 duck hunting season. Late-season comments are summarized below and numbered in the order used in the April 11Federal Register. We have included only the numbered items pertaining to late-season issues for which we received written comments. Consequently, the issues do not follow in direct numerical or alphabetical order.

We received recommendations from all four Flyway Councils. Some recommendations supported continuation of last year's frameworks. Due to the comprehensive nature of the annual review of the frameworks performed by the Councils, support for continuation of last year's frameworks is assumed for items for which no recommendations were received. Council recommendations for changes in the frameworks are summarized below.

General

Written Comments:An individual commenter protested the entire migratory bird hunting regulations process, the killing of all migratory birds, and the Flyway Council process.

Service Response:Our long-term objectives continue to include providing opportunities to harvest portions of certain migratory game bird populations and to limit harvests to levels compatible with each population's ability to maintain healthy, viable numbers. Having taken into account the zones of temperature and the distribution, abundance, economic value, breeding habits, and times and lines of flight of migratory birds, we believe that the hunting seasons provided herein are compatible with the current status of migratory bird populations and long-term population goals. Additionally, we are obligated to, and do, give serious consideration to all information received as publiccomment. While there are problems inherent with any type of representative management of public-trust resources, we believe that the Flyway-Council system of migratory bird management has been a longstanding example of State-Federal cooperative management since its establishment in 1952. However, as always, we continue to seek new ways to streamline and improve the process.

1. Ducks

Categories used to discuss issues related to duck harvest management are: (A) Harvest Strategy Considerations, (B) Regulatory Alternatives, (C) Zones and Split Seasons, and (D) Special Seasons/Species Management. The categories correspond to previously published issues/discussion, and only those containing recommendations are discussed below.

A. Harvest Strategy Considerations

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Upper- and Lower-Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended the adoption of the “liberal” regulatory alternative.

The Central Flyway Council also recommended the “liberal” alternative. However, as part of their Hunter's Choice experiment, they recommended continuation of the following bag limits:

In Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, the daily bag limit would be six ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: Five mallards (no more than two of which may be females), two redheads, two scaup, two wood ducks, one pintail, one mottled duck, and one canvasback. For pintails and canvasbacks, the season length would be 39 days, which may be split according to applicable zones/split duck hunting configurations approved for each State.

In Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, the daily bag limit would be five ducks, with species and sex restrictions as follows: Two scaup, two redheads, and two wood ducks, and only one from the following group—hen mallards, mottled ducks, pintails, canvasbacks.

Service Response:As we stated in the July 23 and August 31 proposed rules, we are continuing development of an Adaptive Harvest Management (AHM) protocol that would allow hunting regulations to vary among Flyways in a manner that recognizes each Flyway's unique breeding-ground derivation of mallards. Until such time, however, for the 2007 hunting season, we believe that the prescribed regulatory choice for the Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways should continue to depend on the status of midcontinent mallards and that the regulatory choice for the Atlantic Flyway should continue to depend on the status of eastern mallards. Investigations of the dynamics of western mallards (and their potential effect on regulations in the West) are continuing; therefore we are not yet prepared to recommend an AHM protocol for this mallard stock.

For the 2007 hunting season, we considered the same regulatory alternatives as those used last year. The nature of the restrictive, moderate, and liberal alternatives has remained essentially unchanged since 1997, except that extended framework dates have been offered in the moderate and liberal regulatory alternatives since 2002. Also, we agreed in 2003 to place a constraint on closed seasons in the western three Flyways whenever the midcontinent mallard breeding-population size (traditional survey area plus Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin) is ≥5.5 million.

Optimal AHM strategies for the 2007 hunting season were calculated using: (1) Harvest-management objectives specific to each mallard stock; (2) the 2007 regulatory alternatives; and (3) current population models and associated weights for midcontinent and eastern mallards. Based on this year's survey results of 9.05 million midcontinent mallards (traditional survey area plus MN, WI, and MI), 5.04 million ponds in Prairie Canada, and 906,900 eastern mallards, we believe the appropriate regulatory choice for all four Flyways is the “liberal” alternative.

Therefore, we concur with the recommendations of the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyway Councils regarding selection of the “liberal” regulatory alternative and will adopt the “liberal” regulatory alternative, as described in the June 8Federal Register.

Regarding Hunter's Choice, we support the Central Flyway's continuation of a 3-year evaluation of the Hunter's Choice duck bag limit. The Central Flyway's Hunter's Choice regulations are intended to limit harvest on pintails and canvasbacks in a manner similar to the season-within-a-season regulations. Hunter's Choice regulations should also reduce harvests of mottled ducks and hen mallards, while maintaining full hunting opportunity on abundant species such as drake mallards. For the species included in the aggregate bag limit, the harvest of one species is intended to “buffer” the harvest of the others, thus reducing the harvest of all species included in the one-bird category. The Central Flyway has accumulated 4 years of baseline information on harvests resulting from “season-within-a-season” regulations in the Central Flyway; the season length for pintails and canvasbacks in season-within-a-season States under the “liberal” alternative will be 39 days.

Five States (Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming) were randomly assigned to Hunter's Choice regulations and the remaining five States (Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma) serve as controls (season-within-a-season regulations) as the evaluation proceeds. The overall duck daily bag limit is reduced from six to five for the Hunter's Choice States.

While we continue to support the Central Flyway's Hunter's Choice experiment, we reiterate that we believe implementation of this experiment should not preclude any future changes in hunting regulations that may be deemed necessary on an annual basis for any other duck species in the Central Flyway, if such changes are deemed necessary.

D. Special Seasons/Species Management iii. Black Ducks

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic Flyway Council and the Upper- and Lower-Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended that black duck harvest regulations remain unchanged for the 2007-08 season.

Service Response:For the 2007-08 hunting season, we support the Flyway Councils' recommendations for no change in hunting regulations for black ducks. However, we are disappointed that progress towards development of an international harvest strategy stalled during recent discussions with the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. It is our understanding that a number of key points were debated, but consensus could not be reached on two major issues: A suitable harvest rate objective and equitable allocation of the harvest between Canada and the United States. It remains our objective to reach final agreement on the international harvest strategy in time to inform decisions for the 2008-09 regulatory cycle. To do so, we will provide a facilitated forum, involving representatives from the Service, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, to reach consensus on the parity issue and any other remaining issues that currently stand in the way of completing and implementing this revised approach to black duck harvest management. Failure to reach agreement in time for next year's regulations development cycle will result in our use of the best available information to recommend regulations necessary tobring harvests in line with the black duck harvest potential.

iv. Canvasbacks

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Lower-Region Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended a full season for canvasbacks consisting of a 2-bird daily bag limit and a 60-day season in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, and 107-day season in the Pacific Flyway.

The Central Flyway Council, as part of their Hunter's Choice experiment, recommended a full season (74 days) for canvasbacks with a 1-bird daily bag limit in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming and a 39-day season with a 1-bird daily bag limit in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

Service Response:Since 1994, we have followed a canvasback harvest strategy that if canvasback population status and production are sufficient to permit a harvest of one canvasback per day nationwide for the entire length of the regular duck season, while still attaining a projected spring population objective of 500,000 birds, the season on canvasbacks should be opened. A partial season would be permitted if the estimated allowable harvest was within the projected harvest for a shortened season. If neither of these conditions can be met, the harvest strategy calls for a closed season on canvasbacks nationwide.

This year's spring survey resulted in a record high estimate of 865,000 canvasbacks. This was 25 percent above the 2006 estimate of 691,000 canvasbacks and 53 percent above the 1955-2006 average. The estimate of ponds in Prairie Canada was 5.04 million, which was 13 percent above last year and 49 percent above the long-term average. The size of the spring population, together with above-average expected production due to the good habitat conditions, results in an allowable harvest in the United States of 467,900 birds for the 2007-08 season. The expected canvasback harvest with a 1-bird daily bag limit for the entire season is expected to be about 120,000 birds. Available data indicates that adding a second canvasback to the daily bag limit is expected to increase harvest about 25 percent, or to approximately 150,000 birds in the United States. The current harvest strategy has no provisions for daily bag limits greater than one bird. However, with the record high breeding population recorded this spring and the expected good recruitment, the strategy would project population growth even with a 2-bird daily bag limit. Therefore, we are in support of the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Pacific Flyway Councils' recommendations to increase the daily bag limit for canvasbacks to two birds for the 2007-08 season. We also support the Central Flyway Council's recommendation to leave canvasback limits unchanged in the Central Flyway to allow continuation of the Hunter's Choice experiment in that Flyway.

We continue to support the canvasback harvest strategy and the model adopted in 1994. However, this strategy was developed primarily due to concerns about low population levels, and as such, did not address circumstances encountered this year of record high abundance and the potential for increased daily bag limits. We believe there is reasonable opportunity to allow a limited increase in the daily bag limit this year without compromising the population(s ability to sustain a breeding population in excess of 500,000 canvasbacks next spring.

We note, however, that departures from existing harvest strategies are not actions that we generally condone, nor will we make an exception to the canvasback strategy next year, even if similar circumstances exist, without an explicit modification to the existing strategy allowing for daily bag limits greater than one bird. Over the next year, we are willing to discuss the possibility of revising the strategy with the Flyway Councils and other interested parties. Because the population model has performed relatively well to date, we believe that the most productive area for discussion involves examination of the harvest management objectives of this strategy, with an emphasis on allowing bag limits greater than one bird. We believe that such a revision should carefully consider the potential ramifications of such changes on the expected frequency of closed and partial seasons for this species in the future.

Due to the relative lateness of this development, the generally earlier opening of duck seasons in Alaska (September 1), and the anticipated level of harvest in Alaska, we will exclude Alaska from the increase in the daily bag limit this year, as was recommended by the Pacific Flyway Council, with the State of Alaska's concurrence. However, we believe that Alaska should fully engage in review of population objectives and remain a part of the overall harvest strategy for this species. Additionally, explicit provisions for Alaska should be considered in any proposed modifications to the strategy that might be forthcoming from the Flyways for the next regulatory cycle.

v. Pintails

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Upper- and Lower-Region Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended a full season for pintails consisting of a 1-bird daily bag limit and a 60-day season in the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways, and a 107-day season in the Pacific Flyway.

The Central Flyway Council, as part of their Hunter's Choice experiment, recommended a full season (74 days) for pintails with a 1-bird daily bag limit in Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming and a 39-day season with a 1-bird daily bag limit in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

Service Response:In the July 23Federal Register, we approved the incorporation of a compensatory harvest mortality model into the decision-making framework used in the pintail harvest strategy. Within that framework, the compensatory model serves as an alternative hypothesis regarding the effect of harvest mortality on population growth. The two alternative models have been assigned weights based on their respective abilities to predict historic pintail breeding populations. These weights, representing the current strength of evidence favoring each model, determine the influence each model has on the annual regulatory choice for pintails. A document describing the current pintail harvest strategy with these technical improvements is posted on the Service's webpage (http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/reports.html).

Based on this revised strategy, along with an observed spring breeding population of 3.34 million, an overflight-bias-corrected breeding population of 4.34 million and a projected fall flight of 5.29 million pintails, the Pintail Harvest Strategy prescribes a full season and a 1-bird daily bag limit in all Flyways. Under the “liberal” season length, this regulation is expected to result in a harvest of 569,000 pintails and an observed breeding population estimate of 3.24 million in 2008, not considering any potential effect from continuation of the Hunter's Choice evaluation in the Central Flyway.

Furthermore, we agree with the Central Flyway Council's recommendation to adopt a 39-day “season-within-a-season” for pintails in Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. We understandthat this departure from the pintail strategy is a necessary part of the experimental Hunter's Choice season.

vi. Scaup

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic, Central, and Pacific Flyway Councils and the Upper- and Lower-Region Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended no changes in scaup harvest regulations for 2007. All the Flyway Councils reiterated their support for the cooperative development of a comprehensive scaup harvest management strategy.

Service Response:The continental scaup (greaterAythya marilaand lesserAythya affiniscombined) population has experienced a long-term decline over the past 20 years. Over the past several years in particular, we have continued to express our growing concern about the status of scaup. The 2007 breeding population estimate for scaup is 3.45 million, essentially unchanged from the 2006 estimate, and the third lowest estimate on record.

Last year, we stated that we did not change scaup harvest regulations with the firm understanding that a draft harvest strategy would be available for Flyway Council review prior to the winter meetings (71 FR 55654, September 22, 2006) and be in place to guide development of scaup hunting regulations in 2007. As part of this effort, we developed an assessment framework that uses available data to help predict the effects of harvest and other uncontrollable environmental factors on the scaup population. After extensive review that we believe resulted in substantial improvements, the final technical assessment was presented during the Winter Flyway Technical Section meetings and made available for public review in the April 11Federal Register. We stated then, and continue to believe, that this technical assessment represents an objective and comprehensive synthesis of data relevant to scaup harvest management and can help frame a scientifically-sound scaup harvest strategy. We note that results of the assessment suggest that a reduction in scaup harvest is commensurate with the current population status of scaup. Based on this technical assessment, a proposed scaup harvest strategy was made available for public review in the June 8Federal Register. The proposed harvest strategy included initial Service recommendations on a harvest management objective and proposed Flyway-specific harvest allocations, as well as an additional analysis that predicted scaup harvest from various combinations of Flyway-specific season lengths and bag limits (http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/reports.html). A number of concerns about the proposed strategy were raised by the Flyway Councils and States.

In the July 23Federal Register, we addressed these concerns and stated that while we continue to support the technical assessment of scaup harvest potential, we were sensitive to the concerns expressed by the Flyway Councils about the policy and social aspects of implementation of the proposed strategy at this time. More specifically, we agreed that more dialogue about the nature of harvest management objectives and regulatory alternatives was necessary for successful implementation of the strategy. Failure to agree on crucial policy aspects of the proposed strategy in a timely fashion increases the risk that more drastic regulatory measures may be necessary in the future, and having considered all of these concerns, we agreed that another year is needed to develop consensus on a harvest strategy for scaup. We believe that one year is sufficient time to resolve all outstanding issues and it is our intent to implement a strategy in 2008. However, we further stated that our decision did not preclude the possibility that we would consider possible changes to scaup harvest regulations for the 2007-08 hunting season, based on population status.

We remain disappointed that collectively we have not made the progress anticipated in the development of a viable strategy to manage harvest that acknowledges the uncertainty about what factors are really influencing scaup numbers, but at the same time provides guidance on what changes in regulations are still appropriate. Although we remain very concerned about the continued decline in scaup numbers and other evidence that this species is not doing well, we are not changing scaup regulations for the 2007-08 hunting season. Our decision is based on several important factors. First, we believe that the hunting seasons provided herein are compatible with the current status of scaup. Second, we have a firm understanding that a harvest strategy will be available for 2008-09 and that outstanding policy issues will be resolved and incorporated into a final strategy in time for adoption in June 2008. And lastly, we believe that this additional year of harvest strategy development will not compromise our long term goals for scaup. We will work with the Flyway Councils to resolve outstanding issues and to continue ongoing cooperative efforts to improve the monitoring programs and databases upon which scaup regulatory decisions are based. These include: Evaluation of potential biases in population estimates, expansion and improvement of population surveys, and a feasibility assessment of a broad-scale scaup banding program. Additionally, we will continue retrospective analyses of existing databases to assist in the identification of causal factors which might explain the continued scaup decline.

In preparation for that dialogue, we reiterate our longstanding objections to State-specific regulations and encourage the Flyway Councils to focus efforts on achieving consensus around Flyway-wide regulatory alternatives. Secondly, we recognize that additional effort is necessary over the coming year to communicate the rationale for a scaup strategy and possible regulatory changes to the Flyways and the public. We intend to review progress on policy issues at the winter 2008 SRC meeting and anticipate significant progress by that time.

vii. Mottled Ducks

While we are not implementing any changes in mottled duck hunting regulations at this time, we remain concerned about mottled duck status, especially those in the Western Gulf Coast region of Louisiana and Texas. However, we commend the progress made on the management of mottled ducks over the past year-and-a-half, including the identification of two management populations and work on range-wide breeding surveys in Florida and the Western Gulf Coast. We are committed to managing the Western Gulf Coast as a single stock of birds, and acknowledge the challenges that are associated with a population boundary that includes more than one Flyway. We request that both the Central and Mississippi Flyways work together to consider how a reduction in harvest, by as much as 30 percent if necessary, can be achieved with regulatory changes. We are confident that the Flyways will be able to adequately address harvest management of mottled ducks as a single Western Gulf Coast population unit, and we look forward to considering a coordinated proposal during the 2008-09 regulatory cycle. During the coming year, we will continue to explore methods to assess mottled duck population status and refine our understanding of population and harvest dynamics.

Further, we recognize that the mottled duck is an integral part of the Central Flyway's Hunter's Choice bag-limit experiment, and we support continuedinclusion of the mottled duck among those species with a bag-limit restriction in the experiment as requested by the Central Flyway Council. However, we reiterate that if it is determined that further reductions in harvest, or a different approach to harvest reduction, are warranted at any time over the course of the Hunter's Choice experiment, we will make those necessary changes. Thus, the continued implementation of this experiment will not preclude any future changes in hunting regulations that may be deemed necessary on an annual basis for mottled ducks.

viii. Youth Hunt

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic Flyway Council recommended that tundra swans be added to the list of eligible species legal to hunt during special youth waterfowl hunts and that we allow the take of tundra swans during the special youth waterfowl hunt day(s) to those individuals holding a valid permit/tag. Further, the Council recommended that this proposed take occur regardless of whether the youth hunt day(s) are inside or outside the current tundra swan hunting framework.

Service Response:Currently, tundra swans may be taken by individuals holding a valid permit/tag at any time during the open season without any additional provisions. Since tundra swan harvests are tightly controlled in each State where a limited number of permits are issued, we see no reason not to allow youth to harvest a tundra swan, as they will still have to possess a valid tag that is issued by random draw prior to the hunting season. Further, we note that the revised (2007) Eastern Population Tundra Swan Management plan advocates the issuance of tundra swan hunt permits during youth waterfowl days, regardless of whether these youth waterfowl hunting days are inside or outside the current framework. Thus, we approve the addition of tundra swans to the list of eligible species for youth swan hunts and allowing the take of tundra swans inside or outside the tundra swan hunting frameworks.

4. Canada Geese B. Regular Seasons

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic Flyway Council forwarded a number of recommendations concerning Canada geese. First, the Council recommended the approval of a minor change in the delineation of High and Low North Atlantic Population (NAP) harvest zones in New York. They further recommended that Connecticut's NAP zones be adjusted to account for the current harvest distribution of NAP and resident Canada geese and to simplify zone boundaries. In Resident Population (RP) areas, the Council recommended the allowance of an 80-day Canada goose hunting season, with a 5-bird daily bag limit, and a 3-way split. In the RP harvest area of New York, they further recommend that the framework closing date be extended to March 10, beginning this fall. They recommended reclassifying a small portion of the Northeast Goose Hunt Zone in Northampton County, North Carolina, to a Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) Hunt Zone designation. Lastly, they recommended that the SJBP Canada goose harvest strategy be revised in the SJBP Management Plan before changes to the SJBP harvest areas or season liberalization are considered in both Flyways.

The Upper- and Lower-Region Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended a number of changes in Canada goose zones, seasons lengths, and bag limits for several States in the Flyway. These changes are an outgrowth of the evolution of Canada goose harvest management philosophy in the Flyway. The change in philosophy in the Flyway is driven by the increasing numbers of giant Canada geese and the diminishing importance of interior Canada geese to goose harvest opportunities in the Flyway. The large numbers of giant Canada geese in most States appear to be buffering, to some extent, hunting pressure on interior Canada geese. These changes will allow States to evaluate the potential of this buffering effect as well as the impacts of stable regulations on interior Canada goose populations.

The Central Flyway Council recommended several changes for dark goose regulations. In the West Tier, they recommended an increase in season length (from 95 to 107 days) in Colorado and an increase in bag limit (from 3 to 4) in Colorado and Texas. In the East Tier, they recommended removing the Big Stone Power Plant area restriction in South Dakota.

The Pacific Flyway Council recommended the following area, bag, and season length changes described below:

1. Increase the bag limit to 6 geese per day in the California Northeastern and Balance-of-State Zones;

2. Increase the daily bag limit for small Canada geese in the California Balance-of-State Zone to 6 geese per day;

3. Eliminate the closed zone of Tillamook County, Oregon, include the county in the NW Oregon Permit Goose Zone, and establish a daily bag limit of dark geese of 3 including not more than 2 cackling or Aleutian geese; and

4. Revise Idaho zone designations for 4 counties, to move all parts of Power County from Zone 3 to Zone 5 and move Blaine and Camas Counties and Cassia County within Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge from Zone 3 to Zone 4.

Service Response:We concur with the Atlantic Flyway Council's recommendations to adjust delineation of High and Low NAP harvest zones in New York and Connecticut to account for the current harvest distribution of NAP. The Atlantic Flyway Management Plan for NAP Canada geese allows for a two-tiered approach to harvest management for this population. “High Harvest” zones are defined as those areas within each State containing 70% or more of all NAP leg band recoveries, whereas “Low Harvest” areas are all other areas of each State within existing NAP zones. Use of High and Low harvest zones allows States to increase and direct harvest opportunity towards RP geese in areas where relatively few NAP geese will be affected.

Under this revised delineation, New York's High and Low harvest zones would contain approximately 83% and 17%, respectively, of all NAP band returns, still well within the management plan criteria. In Connecticut, only 11% of all NAP recoveries have occurred in the NAP-L zone since delineation (2002) of these harvest zones, and no NAP recoveries have occurred in the proposed area of change. Both of these changes would not only allow for more harvest of RP geese, but would have minimal impact to NAP geese.

We also concur with the Atlantic Flyway Council's recommendations regarding frameworks for RP harvest areas. Resident Canada geese are overabundant in many areas of the Atlantic Flyway and currently number approximately 1.2 million birds, or nearly double the goal in the Atlantic Flyway Resident Canada Goose Management Plan of 650,000 geese. Allowance of an 80-day season, combined with the 25-day special Canada goose season in September, and the 2-day Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days, would potentially allow 107 days of harvest opportunity for RP geese, the maximum allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Further, allowing 3-way splits within the regular season would provide States with greater flexibility for setting their seasons. All of these objectives are consistent with those identified in the Service's 2005 Final Environmental Impact Statementon Resident Canada Goose Management (70 FR 69985, November 18, 2005). Since RP areas were first established in 2002 (with 70-day seasons and a 5-bird daily limit), available band recovery data from the first 3 seasons (2002-2004) indicate that harvest of migrant geese (AP, NAP, and SJBP) has been negligible. Further, the March 10 closing date in New York will not adversely impact AP geese migrating north in early spring as data indicate that AP geese make only minimal use of the RP area in New York. Lastly, delays in opening framework dates will be maintained to avoid any harvest of migrant geese during peak fall movements (e.g., early to mid October in New York) to southern regions of the Flyway.

We also agree with the Atlantic Flyway Council's recommendation to reclassify a small portion of the Northeast Goose Hunt Zone in Northampton County, North Carolina, to an SJBP Hunt Zone designation. Northampton County currently includes portions of two Canada goose hunt zones—an AP zone designation and an SJBP zone designation. Over the last 15 years, the AP zone in North Carolina has decreased in size due to contemporary information regarding locations of migrant Canada goose flocks and population affiliation. While Northampton County does hold migrant geese from both the AP and SJBP, the Flyway's original intent in including this small portion of Northampton County in the AP zone occurred at a time when the AP population was reduced throughout the entire Flyway, and when the Service's and Flyway's goal was to provide maximum protection to AP geese in North Carolina. Since then, AP geese have rebounded from low numbers in the late 1990s, and the hunting of AP geese in North Carolina has been relaxed to some extent.

We do not agree with the framework changes and season liberalizations proposed by the Mississippi Flyway Council to the SJBP harvest areas. SJBP Canada geese are managed through a management plan developed cooperatively by the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways. In recent years, the Mississippi Flyway has undergone major changes in their philosophical approach to Canada goose management. As a result, the Mississippi Flyway Council has instituted changes in their regulatory approach to MVP, SJBP, and RP Canada goose management. While the Mississippi Flyway Council believes that their 2007-08 proposals for SJBP regulations are consistent with the current management plan, the Atlantic Flyway Council believes that more dialogue is needed on these proposals before they can support them. Given the lack of consensus between the two Flyways, we do not support changes to SJBP regulations at this time. We encourage the two Flyways to revise the SJBP management plan to reflect evolving philosophies of Canada goose management in general.

We concur with the Central Flyway's recommendation to increase the season length from 95 to 107 days for dark geese in Colorado and increase the daily bag limit in Colorado and Texas. The 2005-07 average (211,627) of mid-winter counts for the Hi-Line Population of Canada geese remains well above the established objective level (85,000). Further, the 2005-07 average (200,821) of mid-winter counts for the Shortgrass Prairie Population of Canada geese also remains above the established population objective (150,000-200,000). Given the status of these populations and the established population objective levels, we agree that the proposed increase in season length in Colorado and the daily bag limit increases in Colorado and Texas are commensurate with the status of the populations.

Regarding the Central Flyway Council's recommendation to remove the Big Stone Power Plant area restriction in South Dakota, we agree. The restriction was put in place in 1997 due to potential concerns related to the status of Eastern Prairie Population (EPP) Canada geese. These geese nest in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Manitoba and concentrate primarily in Manitoba, Minnesota, and Missouri during winter. The 2007 spring estimate of EPP geese was 217,500, 17 percent higher than the 2006 estimate. Spring estimates have increased an average of 3 percent per year over the last 10 years. Furthermore, the estimated number of productive geese in 2007 increased from 2006 and reached a record-high level. We see no reason to continue this restriction.

We also concur with all of the recommendations forwarded by the Pacific Flyway Council. We support the changes proposed and recognize that the changes in California and Oregon are intended to address increasing depredation problems associated with Aleutian Canada geese. Aleutian Canada geese continue to increase rapidly and currently are above the population objective levels identified in the Flyway management plan. We further note that Pacific Flyway white-fronted geese and Aleutian Canada geese are at the highest population levels that have been observed in the last 15 years. The proposed increased harvest opportunity will help address depredation concerns in northwest California and southwest Oregon associated with both of these populations. The other changes proposed for Canada geese in Washington, Utah, and Nevada, are relatively minor boundary changes in harvest zones or bag limit increases that will help address depredation concerns in these States and will not impact the harvest of other Canada goose populations of management concern in the Flyway. The proposed zone boundary change in Idaho is an administrative change and is not expected to have any measurable impact on the goose harvest from these areas.

C. Special Late Seasons

Council Recommendations:The Upper- and Lower-Region Regulations Committees of the Mississippi Flyway Council recommended a 3-year experimental late Canada goose season for a 30-county area in Indiana during February 1-15. The 15-day season would be designed to increase harvests of local giant Canada geese.

Service Response:We concur with the Council on the creation of an experimental late Canada goose season in Indiana. The 2007 population estimate for Mississippi Flyway Giant Population Canada geese (MFGP) breeding in Indiana is 125,000, and the established population goal is 80,000. While Indiana has used special September Canada goose seasons to control locally-breeding MFGP, complaints regarding breeding MFGP in Indiana continue to increase. We agree that a special late goose season could help control Indiana's breeding Canada goose population. Available collar and harvest data indicate that the proposed experimental area is comprised of well above 80 percent non-migrant geese, as required by the current criteria.

6. Brant

Council Recommendations:The Atlantic Flyway Council recommends a 50-day season with a 2-bird daily bag limit for Atlantic brant.

Service Response:We concur with the Atlantic Flyway Council recommendation. The 2007 Mid-Winter Index (MWI) for Atlantic brant was 150,559. While the Brant Management Plan prescribes a 50-day season with a 2-bird daily bag limit when the MWI estimate falls within 125,000-150,000, and consideration of a 60-day season with a 3-bird daily bag limit when the MWI estimate is above 150,000, the outlook for productivity is below average due to highly variable conditions on the main breeding grounds. Thus, we agree with theCouncil that an increase of 20 days (from last year's 30-day season) without the associated daily bag limit increase is a conservative approach to harvest management for the upcoming season.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Consideration

NEPA considerations are covered by the programmatic document “Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement: Issuance of Annual Regulations Permitting the Sport Hunting of Migratory Birds (FSES 88-14),” filed with the Environmental Protection Agency on June 9, 1988. We published a Notice of Availability in theFederal Registeron June 16, 1988 (53 FR 22582). We published our Record of Decision on August 18, 1988 (53 FR 31341). Annual NEPA considerations are covered under a separate Environmental Assessment (EA), “Duck Hunting Regulations for 2007-08,” and an August 27, 2007, Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). Copies of the EA and FONSI are available upon request from the address indicated underADDRESSES.

In a notice published in the September 8, 2005,Federal Register(70 FR 53376), we announced our intent to develop a new Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the migratory bird hunting program. Public scoping meetings were held in the spring of 2006, as we announced in a March 9, 2006,Federal Registernotice (71 FR 12216). A scoping report summarizing the scoping comments and scoping meetings is available either at the address indicated underADDRESSESor on our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds.

Endangered Species Act Consideration

Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531-1543; 87 Stat. 884), provides that, “The Secretary shall review other programs administered by him and utilize such programs in furtherance of the purposes of this Act” (and) shall “insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out * * * is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat * * *.” Consequently, we conducted formal consultations to ensure that actions resulting from these regulations would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of endangered or threatened species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of their critical habitat. Findings from these consultations are included in a biological opinion, which concluded that the regulations are not likely to adversely affect any endangered or threatened species. Additionally, these findings may have caused modification of some regulatory measures previously proposed, and the final frameworks reflect any such modifications. Our biological opinions resulting from this section 7 consultation are public documents available for public inspection at the address indicated underADDRESSES.

Executive Order 12866

The migratory bird hunting regulations are economically significant and were reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under Executive Order 12866. As such, a cost/benefit analysis was initially prepared in 1981. This analysis was subsequently revised annually from 1990-96, updated in 1998, and updated again in 2004. It is further discussed below under the heading Regulatory Flexibility Act. Results from the 2004 analysis indicate that the expected welfare benefit of the annual migratory bird hunting frameworks is on the order of $734 million to $1.064 billion, with a mid-point estimate of $899 million. Copies of the cost/benefit analysis are available upon request from the address indicated underADDRESSESor from our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/SpecialTopics/EconomicAnalysis-Final-2004.pdf.

This year, due to limited data availability, we partially updated the 2004 analysis, but restricted our analysis to duck hunting. Results indicate that the total consumer surplus of the annual duck hunting frameworks is on the order of $222 to $360 million, with a mid-point estimate of $291 million. We plan to perform a full update of the analysis in 2008. Copies of the updated analysis are available upon request from the address indicated underADDRESSESor from our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/SpecialTopics/EconomicAnalysis-2007Update.pdf.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

These 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 discussed under Executive Order 12866. 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, and 2004. 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 2004 Analysis was based on the 2001 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 between $481 million and $1.2 billion at small businesses in 2004. Copies of the Analysis are available upon request from the address indicated underADDRESSESor from our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/SpecialTopics/EconomicAnalysis-Final-2004.pdf.

This year, due to limited data availability, we partially updated the 2004 analysis, but restricted our analysis to duck hunting. Results indicate that the duck hunters would spend between $291 million and $473.5 million at small businesses in 2007. We plan to perform a full update of the analysis in 2008 when the full results from the 2006 National Hunting and Fishing Survey is available. Copies of the updated analysis are available upon request from the address indicated underADDRESSESor from our Web site athttp://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/reports/SpecialTopics/EconomicAnalysis-2007Update.pdf.

Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act

This 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 has an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more. However, because this rule establishes 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

We examined these regulations under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA). There are no new information collections in this rule that would require OMB approval under the PRA. The existing various recordkeeping and reporting requirements imposed under regulations established in 50 CFR part 20, Subpart K, are utilized in the formulation of migratory game bird hunting regulations. Specifically, OMB has approved the information collection requirements of the surveys associated with the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program and assigned clearance number 1018-0015 (expires 2/29/2008). This information is used to provide a sampling frame for voluntarynational surveys to improve our harvest estimates for all migratory game birds in order to better manage these populations.

A Federal 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 rulemaking will 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 rule, has determined that this rule will not unduly burden the judicial system and that it meets the requirements of sections 3(a) and 3(b)(2) of Executive Order 12988.

Takings Implication Assessment

In accordance with Executive Order 12630, this 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 will not result in the physical occupancy of property, the physical invasion of property, or the regulatory taking of any property. In fact, these rules allow hunters to exercise otherwise unavailable privileges and, therefore, reduce restrictions on the use of private and public property.

Energy Effects—Executive Order 13211

On May 18, 2001, the President issued Executive Order 13211 on regulations that significantly affect energy supply, distribution, and use. Executive Order 13211 requires agencies to prepare Statements of Energy Effects when undertaking certain actions. While this rule is a significant regulatory action under Executive Order 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

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. Thus, in accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, “Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments” (59 FR 22951), Executive Order 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 the April 11 proposed rule we solicited proposals for special migratory bird hunting regulations for certain Tribes on Federal Indian reservations, off-reservation trust lands, and ceded lands for the 2007-08 migratory bird hunting season. The resulting proposals were contained in a separate rulemaking. By virtue of these actions, we have consulted with all the Tribes 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 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 Executive Order 13132, these regulations do not have significant federalism effects and do not have sufficient federalism implications to warrant the preparation of a Federalism Assessment.

Regulations Promulgation

The rulemaking process for migratory game bird hunting must, by its nature, operate under severe time constraints. However, we intend that the public be given the greatest possible opportunity to comment. Thus, when the preliminary proposed rulemaking was published, we established what we believed were the longest periods possible for public comment. In doing this, we recognized that when the comment period closed, time would be of the essence. That is, if there were a delay in the effective date of these regulations after this final rulemaking, States would have insufficient time to select season dates and limits; to communicate those selections to us; and to establish and publicize the necessary regulations and procedures to implement their decisions. We therefore find that “good cause” exists, within the terms of 5 U.S.C. 553(d)(3) of the Administrative Procedure Act, and these frameworks will, therefore, take effect immediately upon publication.

Therefore, under authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (July 3, 1918), as amended (16 U.S.C. 703-711), we prescribe final frameworks setting forth the species to be hunted, the daily bag and possession limits, the shooting hours, the season lengths, the earliest opening and latest closing season dates, and hunting areas, from which State conservation agency officials will select hunting season dates and other options. Upon receipt of selections, we will publish in theFederal Registera final rulemaking amending 50 CFR part 20 to reflect seasons, limits, and shooting hours for the conterminous United States for the 2007-08 hunting season.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 20

Exports, Hunting, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation, Wildlife.

The rules that eventually will be promulgated for the 2007-08 hunting season are authorized under 16 U.S.C. 703-712 and 16 U.S.C. 742 a-j.

Dated: September 14, 2007. David M. Verhey, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. PART 20—[AMENDED] Final Regulations Frameworks for 2007-08 Late Hunting Seasons on Certain Migratory Game Birds

Pursuant to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and delegated authorities, the Department has approved the following frameworks for season lengths, shooting hours, bag and possession limits, and outside dates within which States may select seasons for hunting waterfowl and coots between the dates of September 1, 2007, and March 10, 2008.

General

Dates: All outside dates noted below are inclusive.

Shooting and Hawking (taking by falconry) Hours: Unless otherwisespecified, from one-half hour before sunrise to sunset daily.

Possession Limits: Unless otherwise specified, possession limits are twice the daily bag limit.

Flyways and Management Units Waterfowl Flyways

Atlantic Flyway—includes Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Mississippi Flyway—includes Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Central Flyway—includes Colorado (east of the Continental Divide), Kansas, Montana (Counties of Blaine, Carbon, Fergus, Judith Basin, Stillwater, Sweetgrass, Wheatland, and all counties east thereof), Nebraska, New Mexico (east of the Continental Divide except the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation), North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming (east of the Continental Divide).

Pacific Flyway—includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and those portions of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming not included in the Central Flyway.

Management Units

High Plains Mallard Management Unit—roughly defined as that portion of the Central Flyway that lies west of the 100th meridian.

Definitions: For the purpose of hunting regulations listed below, the collective terms “dark” and “light” geese include the following species:

Dark geese:Canada geese, white-fronted geese, brant (except in California, Oregon, Washington, and the Atlantic Flyway), and all other goose species except light geese.

Light geese:snow (including blue) geese and Ross' geese.

Area, Zone, and Unit Descriptions: Geographic descriptions related to late-season regulations are contained in a later portion of this document.

Area-Specific Provisions: Frameworks for open seasons, season lengths, bag and possession limits, and other special provisions are listed below by Flyway.

Waterfowl Seasons in the Atlantic Flyway

In the Atlantic Flyway States of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, where Sunday hunting is prohibited statewide by State law, all Sundays are closed to all take of migratory waterfowl (including mergansers and coots).

Special Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days

Outside Dates: States may select two consecutive days (hunting days in Atlantic Flyway States with compensatory days) per duck-hunting zone, designated as “Youth Waterfowl Hunting Days,” in addition to their regular duck seasons. The days must be held outside any regular duck season on a weekend, holiday, or other non-school day when youth hunters would have the maximum opportunity to participate. The days may be held up to 14 days before or after any regular duck-season frameworks or within any split of a regular duck season, or within any other open season on migratory birds.

Daily Bag Limits: The daily bag limits may include ducks, geese, tundra swans, mergansers, coots, moorhens, and gallinules and would be the same as those allowed in the regular season. Flyway species and area restrictions would remain in effect.

Shooting Hours: One-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Participation Restrictions: Youth hunters must be 15 years of age or younger. In addition, an adult at least 18 years of age must accompany the youth hunter into the field. This adult may not duck hunt but may participate in other seasons that are open on the special youth day. Tundra swans may only be taken by participants possessing applicable tundra swan permits.

Atlantic Flyway Ducks, Mergansers, and Coots

Outside Dates: Between the Saturday nearest September 24 (September 22) and the last Sunday in January (January 27).

Hunting Seasons and Duck Limits: 60 days. The daily bag limit is 6 ducks, including no more than 4 mallards (2 hens), 2 scaup, 1 black duck, 1 pintail, 2 canvasbacks, 1 mottled duck, 1 fulvous whistling duck, 2 wood ducks, 2 redheads, and 4 scoters.

Closures: The season on harlequin ducks is closed.

Sea Ducks:Within the special sea duck areas, during the regular duck season in the Atlantic Flyway, States may choose to allow the above sea duck limits in addition to the limits applying to other ducks during the regular duck season. In all other areas, sea ducks may be taken only during the regular open season for duc