The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this afternoon released the following statement intended to portray its thinking and planning regarding the fall migration of waterfowl and other birds in light of the ongoing BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The release was made, the service said, following newspaper articles about the spill and its potential impacts on ducks and geese, as well as non-game birds such as loons and herons.

Specifically, however, the information dealt with waterfowl regulations and the spill. Here's what the service said:

"Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and U.S. Migratory Bird Harvest Regulations''
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, June 2010

•    The ongoing release of oil into the Gulf of Mexico following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Platform and impacts to Gulf wetlands and wildlife has led to concerns about the potential for increased mortality in waterfowl and other migratory game birds, particularly in the fall and winter when local populations increase.

•    The potential for increased mortality of migrating and wintering game birds has led to questions regarding the need to impose precautionary regulatory restrictions in anticipation of increased spill-related mortality.

•    It’s important to recognize that populations of many species of North American waterfowl naturally undergo large population fluctuations in response to variability in breeding habitat conditions across their range, especially within the important prairie-parkland region.

•    In fact, during the drought-stricken years of the 1980s and early 1990s, many North American waterfowl species declined to population sizes less than one-half those recently experienced as a result of natural declines in productivity and ongoing mortality.

•    Fortunately, waterfowl management has a rich and successful history of monitoring and assessment programs which provide annual updates on the status and health of waterfowl populations.

•    These data are integral in the process of establishing hunting regulations for waterfowl and other migratory game birds.  Through the Adaptive Harvest Management process, and associated species-specific harvest strategies, monitoring data are explicitly linked to regulatory decision making, ensuring that appropriate regulatory actions will be taken if warranted by changes in continental population status.

•    Therefore, from a National harvest-management perspective, the Service intends to respond to the ongoing BP oil spill as it would any other non-hunting factor with potentially substantial effects on mortality or reproduction (e.g., hurricane, disease, prairie drought, habitat loss), by monitoring abundance and vital rates of waterfowl and other migratory game birds and adjusting harvest regulations as needed on the basis of existing harvest strategies.

•    Recently obtained results of annual spring waterfowl population surveys indicate that population sizes of most duck species and breeding habitat conditions are good this year.

•     While the Service believes that regulatory restrictions are currently unnecessary, we remain very concerned about both the short and long-term impacts of the BP oil spill on migratory birds, their habitats, and the resources upon which birds depend.

•    There remains considerable uncertainty regarding the short-term and long-term impacts this spill will have on waterfowl and other migratory game birds that utilize the impacted region during all or part of their annual life cycle.  

•    The Service has been heavily engaged in the immediate response to the BP oil spill.  The intent of these efforts is to document and minimize impacts to natural resources including migratory birds and their habitats.   

•    Large-scale efforts to influence bird migration and distribution at the flyway-level are likely fruitless given the importance of weather and photoperiod on the timing and speed of bird migrations.  It is possible that re-distribution of birds at smaller scales could help reduce some oil exposure.  

•    Working with conservation partners, the Service is preparing to implement a range of on-the-ground habitat conservation or management measures near the oil-impact area intended to minimize the entrance of oil into managed habitats along the Gulf and to enhance the availability of food resources outside the oil impact area.  

•    The provision of additional, reliable food sources could also help buffer against the worst-case scenario of an early winter in northern portions of the Mississippi and Central Flyways and dry habitat conditions in the northern Mississippi Alluvial Valley that would result in large wintering waterfowl populations along the Gulf Coast.  The Service is working with partners to determine what portion of these projects should be available as “sanctuary” (areas closed to hunting) to encourage bird use of these areas and minimize redistribution due to disturbance.  

•    Simultaneous with immediate response efforts, the Service is also working with partners to assess potential pathways for long-term acute and sub-lethal effects of the oil spill on the full suite of migratory birds utilizing Gulf (or other impacted) habitats during some portion of their life cycle.   Effects may result from direct exposure of birds to oil or to the long-term accumulation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or other toxins at levels sufficient to cause physiological disorders impacting productivity or survival.  The intent of this assessment is to assist in identifying potential mitigation and conservation measures as well as long-term monitoring and assessment needs for migratory birds.  

•    During the upcoming summer regulatory meetings, the Service will have the opportunity to discuss the BP oil spill and its impacts  with the Flyway Councils.  One focus of these discussions will be whether any additional conservation measures should be considered , especially for species of concern or species that rely on a restricted range of threatened resources.

•    Regardless of the eventual impact of the BP oil spill on migratory game birds, the Service recognizes the importance of working with the states as well as other governmental and non-governmental conservation partners to ensure that reasonable and science-based measures are implemented in the face of the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, and that the rationale for decisions regarding harvest regulations or other actions are clearly communicated to the public.


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