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Migratory Waterfowl Hunters Face Changes
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Waterfowl hunters should pack their hunting regulations along with their gear as new changes mean some old practices can put them on the wrong side of the law.
The major change is that hunters can flood and manipulate natural vegetation, and then hunt over it. They can also flood harvested or unharvested agricultural fields and hunt over them, but they cannot scatter seeds, bush hog the field or do some other non-agricultural practice.
Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the changes mostly clarify existing regulations.
"Hunting over land that has been managed for normal agricultural practices continues to be allowed," Stewart said. "You can plant and harvest a crop and hunt over that land as long as what you do is under the context of normal agriculture. But if someone goes out and hunts on agricultural areas where seed or grain has been scattered or manipulated not as part of normal agriculture, that is baiting and that is illegal."
Recent year's waterfowl populations have been increasing, having declined from the late 1970s through the '80s. This year a projected 105 million ducks will participate in the continental migration. Many of these will pass through the state in the Mississippi Flyway.
Stewart attributed these numbers to conservation efforts and rain in critical nesting areas. The Prairie Pothole region of the extreme northern United States and southern Canada has gotten increased rainfall, providing much nesting habitat for the waterfowl.
"Waterfowl nest around the edges of these ponds, and generally the more water you have, the more edges and nesting habitat," Stewart said.
With waterfowl in abundance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service set regulations and provided specifics on what is legal and illegal hunting practices.
"You cannot hunt waterfowl or any other migratory game bird by the aid of baiting or on or over any baited area where you know or reasonably should know that the area is or has been baited," their website states.
Additionally, baited areas remain off-limits for hunting for 10 days after the bait has been removed. This regulation recognizes that removing the bait does not remove the lure to the area created by the earlier baiting.
Those who hunt over baited areas can be fined up to $15,000 and spend six months in jail. Those who create the baited area can be fined up to $100,000 individually or $200,000 for an organization and could spend up to one year in prison.
"Agricultural lands offer prime waterfowl hunting opportunities," the website states. "You can hunt waterfowl in fields of unharvested standing crops. You can also hunt over standing crops that have been flooded. You can flood fields after crops are harvested and use these areas for waterfowl hunting."
Land with seed or grain present cannot be hunted, unless it is scattered for normal agricultural planting, harvest, post-harvest manipulation or soil stabilization. Hunters also can use blinds of natural vegetation or of agricultural crops, as long as building the blind does not scatter the agricultural grain.
Extension Service agronomy specialists have been named as the authority on what are normal agricultural practices. That means Dr. Erick Larson, Dr. Alan Blaine and Dr. Joe Street may be called upon to clarify normal production practices for corn, wheat, soybeans and rice.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has not determined the duck hunting season dates, but will announce these when they are set.
For complete details on the baiting regulations for migratory waterfowl, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's wildlife laws section at http://www.le.fws.gov.