Montana migratory bird hunters--whether your passion is hunting snow geese on a foggy November morning at Freezout Lake Wildlife Management Area, being humbled by the speedy flight of mourning doves zipping across sunflower fields along Montana's Hi-Line, or jump shooting mallards along an ice choked portion of the lower Yellowstone River, you'll be required to take part in a program this coming fall that promises to provide more reliable and accurate harvest estimates of all migratory birds hunted and harvested in the United States.
Beginning in 1998, all migratory bird hunters in Montana, as well as migratory bird hunters in all the other 49 states, will be required to take part in a national harvest survey program, termed the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program (or MBHIP, as it is often called).
HIP is a new method by which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), is developing more reliable estimates of the number of all migratory birds harvested throughout the country. These estimates will give biologists the information they need to make sound decisions concerning hunting seasons, bag limits and population management.
HIP is based on a voluntary survey of selected migratory bird hunters in the United States. In simplest terms, the USFWS randomly selects a sample of hunters and asks them to provide information on the kind and number of migratory birds they harvest during the hunting season. This information is then used to develop reliable estimates of the total harvest of all migratory birds throughout the country.
If you are a migratory bird hunter, to comply with HIP, you first must identify yourself as a migratory bird hunter and fill out a survey form with your name, address and date of birth before you can purchase your Montana Migratory Bird Stamp.
Second, you must have proof of your participation in HIP with you whenever you hunt migratory birds in the state. Your Montana Migratory Bird Stamp will be your proof of participation after you complete the necessary survey form.
In addition, when you sign up in HIP, you will be asked to voluntarily answer several questions about your hunting experience during last year's season. Your answers to these questions are not used to compile harvest estimates, but are simply used to identify what types of birds you usually hunt. This allows the USFWS to target their surveys to the appropriate hunters. For example, questions about dove harvest would be asked of hunters who primarily hunt doves, while duck harvest questions would be asked of hunters who primarily hunt waterfowl. It will also allow the USFWS to sample different groups of hunters based on their level of harvest.
If your name is one of the few selected for a national harvest survey, you'll be asked to voluntarily complete a more detailed survey about the results of your hunts during this coming year's hunting season. You will receive a personal letter and a hunting record form from the USFWS, and will be asked to keep a record of the migratory birds you harvest during the season. You also will be given an addressed, postage-paid envelope to return your hunting form at the end of the season. Responses from hunters who choose to participate will be kept strictly confidential and will not be used for any other purposes. As soon as the survey is completed, the USFWS will destroy all hunters' names and address records. The follow-up survey provides the information used to develop nationwide harvest estimates. Basically, that's all that HIP requires.
The USFWS has conducted waterfowl harvest surveys since 1952, and many states have long histories of conducting harvest surveys. These surveys provide some of the information currently used to set waterfowl hunting regulations. Although this information has been very useful, there are problems with the old techniques that must be corrected to improve the scope and quality of the information.
Previous federal waterfowl surveys were based on a sample of hunters who bought the federal duck stamp. In addition to questions about the harvest of ducks, geese and swans, the survey also included questions about non-waterfowl (or "webless") migratory birds. However, there are about two million people who hunt only non-waterfowl species, such as doves and woodcock. Because they are not required to buy federal duck stamps, these hunters were never included in the federal harvest survey. Information from the waterfowl harvest survey has been useful and adequate in the past, but we need to improve on it to meet the management challenges of the next century.
Hunters were concerned about wildlife conservation long before it was trendy to do so. They have a long history of taxing themselves, paying license fees, buying stamps -- all to ensure the health and vigor of wildlife populations -- hunted and non-hunted alike. HIP is just another page in that history. It is simply good conservation.
As the threat to and concern for migratory bird populations continue to mount, it is essential to gather the best information possible about the factors affecting these populations. It is in the hunter's best interest to have wildlife management decisions based on scientific evidence, not on opinions, philosophies, or politics. The Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program, through the cooperation of hunters, will provide biologists with much of the facts they need to ensure that our migratory bird resources -- and hunting tradition -- will be around for future generations to enjoy.