California Waterfowl advocates for science-based bag limits, seasons and other regulations that will both ensure sustainable hunting and maximize hunter participation.

Waterfowl hunting regulations are set at two levels: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sets science-based frameworks based on waterfowl population and other data, with guidance from councils established in each flyway. Then the California Fish and Game Commission sets regulations that fit within those frameworks. California Waterfowl participates in the process at both the federal and state levels.

Below are our positions on current issues, as well as our past successes.

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2018-19 waterfowl regulations in California

California Waterfowl supports enacted changes to California’s waterfowl regulations, including a return to a daily pintail bag limit of two, and changes to goose hunting regulations in the Northeastern Zone.

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Pintail bag limits

A growing body of science suggests that restrictive limits for pintail are not helping the species rebound to 1970s population levels. Consistent with recommendations from researchers, CWA advocates raising the daily pintail bag limit to three in order to study whether the higher limit would have any impact on population. If the data continue to show that hunter harvest is not impacting populations, a higher limit could be maintained on a more permanent basis.

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Mallard bag limits

California’s breeding mallard population – which makes up 70% of the mallard harvest here – has been in a persistent slump. However, the state still has a liberal bag limit of seven per day, with no more than two hens. While some argue for lowering the mallard limit, California Waterfowl does not take that position for a number of reasons:

  • The key factor holding back California’s mallard population is not harvest, but the availability of suitable breeding habitat. California Waterfowl advocates for laws and policies that promote breeding habitat, particularly allowing plant growth on fallowed crop fields where ducks are inclined to make their nests.
  • The smaller breeding population already has the effect of lowering the mallard harvest (see chart below).
  • Lowering the harvest further would require a drastic reduction in the daily bag limit and/or a reduction in season length. Such measures may not help California mallards, but they could very well suppress hunter participation, which in turn suppresses revenue and support for conservation.

California’s mallard harvest tracks with the California breeding population, not the mid-continental breeding population. (Data sources: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife)

White goose conservation season

White goose populations (lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese) in the Pacific Flyway are far above population objectives and run the risk of doing habitat and agricultural damage if the populations aren’t brought under control. In 2016, at California Waterfowl’s request, the Pacific Flyway Council asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider a conservation order for white geese, which would allow hunting past March 10 each year.

The request is consistent with California Waterfowl’s objective to provide maximum hunting opportunity supported by research.

If the Service agrees, it would begin work to revise existing National Environmental Policy Act documents for light goose management in the Pacific Flyway. According to a letter from the Pacific Flyway Council to the Service, the “NEPA revision should give consideration to all three light goose populations within the Pacific Flyway – Ross’s geese, Western Arctic Population lesser snow geese, and Wrangel Island Population lesser snow geese; injury to habitat, agricultural interests, and other species on breeding, staging, or wintering areas; and the possibility of taking preemptive action to avoid injury.”

The entire process to allow for this additional hunting opportunity for white geese would likely take several years to complete. Recognizing the timing of white goose migrations in California, any new hunting opportunity after March 10 would likely be focused in the Northeastern Zone.

In March 2018, the Department of the Interior asked for more documentation of agricultural damage being caused by white geese. The process continues.

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January 31 closing date

Regular waterfowl seasons currently end the last Sunday in January. California Waterfowl has joined with other organizations representing hunters in California asking the Pacific Flyway Council to recommend allowing states to end their regular seasons on Jan. 31 each year, regardless of the day of the week.

Doing so would not increase the total number of hunt days allowed, and it would allow California hunters to maximize what is the best part of the season in most zones. It could also simplify regulations by creating a known end date each year.

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Past successes

California Waterfowl’s policy team has successfully advocated for:

• Adding two years of eligibility nationwide for participating in the annual pre- and post-season Youth Hunt Weekends – opening the hunts to youth 17 and younger on the day of they are hunting. We requested this after passage of a CWA-sponsored bill to add two years of eligibility for a youth hunting license in California, from age 15 on July 1 of the license year to age 17 on July 1 of the license year

• Adding spring and early fall goose hunting seasons.

• Raising the white goose bag limit to 20 per day and the dark goose bag limit to 10 per day.

• Adding one week of hunting and raising the daily limit to three for specklebelly hunting in the Sacramento Valley Special Management Area.

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