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Texas Whitewing Zone Changes Accepted
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department this week announced that the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regulations Committee has accepted the Texas proposal to expand the Special Whitewing Dove Zone, adding a new portion of land west of I-35 and south of U. S. Highway 90 near San Antonio.
This means a 20 percent increase in the size of the special zone that is open to white-winged dove afternoon-only hunting the first two Saturdays and Sundays in September. Also new is a bag limit increase from 10 to12 birds, allowing not more than four mourning doves and two white-tipped doves.
Although the change drops the mourning dove bag limit from five birds to four during the special season, it does mean more hunting opportunity along the Highway 90 corridor. Dove hunting starts on Sept. 1 just north Highway 90 in the Central Zone, but South Zone dove hunters until now had to wait until the first Friday after Sept. 20 to hunt south of the highway.
"We’ve seen a huge increase in whitewings in this section of country and hunters north of Highway 90 see whitewings trading back and forth across the highway and can't understand why they can't hunt both sides,” said Vernon Bevill, TPWD small game and habitat assessment program director.
“The real issue with the Service has been growing concern for mourning doves,” Bevill added, “which appear to be declining somewhat range-wide, even though there are still several hundred million of them, making them one of the 10 most abundant birds in North America. We have begun collaboration with other dove hunting states to band mourning doves and develop better databases to clearly understand changes in populations to see what is really happening. By gaining the opportunity to expand the Special Whitewing Zone we are at least able to offer some added opportunity to hunters asking for this change.”
TPWD will be actively monitoring hunting in the area to determine that the additional opportunity is not adversely impacting mourning doves. Hunters will have to pay closer attention to what species of dove they are targeting to assure they do not take more than four mourning doves.
"We are pleased that our staff put together a good, science-based, proposal that was acceptable to the Service Regulations Committee,” said Mike Berger, TPWD wildlife division director.
“The process requires that we run our proposals through the Central Flyway Council for endorsement, and that took place back in March. Staff recently worked with the Flyway and the Service to modify the proposal into a more acceptable recommendation by reducing the overall area of the request. That helped eliminate concerns that too many mourning doves would be taken in an area where some nesting effort extends into September. Until we have a better understanding of what is going on with mourning doves, we have to be sensitive to err on the side of the resource."
Berger went on to say that the new Migratory Game Bird Stamp that rolls the waterfowl and white-winged dove stamps into one stamp covering all migratory game birds this fall will give TPWD some additional funding over time to direct toward research on mourning doves. This should improve science and provide better approaches for future game bird management.
Since the Texas Legislature passed SB 1192 in the recent session, all dove hunters will be required to purchase the new $7 Migratory Game Bird Stamp this fall. However, there will be no practical change for a large percentage of dove hunters who were already buying the white-winged stamp.
“As it was, we were already seeing more than 60 percent of dove hunters buying the Whitewing Dove Stamp, probably because whitewing numbers have grown so much and spread so far that hunters were concerned about staying legal,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director.
Cook said the new stamp gives TPWD added flexibility to address mourning dove needs because the agency could not spend whitewing stamp funds on needed mourning dove work.
“Hunters should thank the game bird hunting conservation groups that supported game bird stamp reorganization in the recent legislative session, including Ducks Unlimited, Dove Sportsman's Society, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quail Unlimited, and Texas Audubon.”
The recommendations approved by the USFWS regulations committee still must be published in the Federal Register for another 30-day comment period. If they are approved, the 2005 dove season will be as follows: North Zone — Sept. 1-Oct. 30, with a 15-bird bag and not more than two white-tipped doves; Central Zone — Sept. 1-Oct. 30 and reopening Dec. 26 — Jan. 4, with a 12-bird bag and not more than two white-tipped doves; South Zone — Sept. 23-Nov. 10 and reopening Dec. 26-Jan. 15 with a 12 bird bag but not more than two white-tipped doves; Special South Texas Whitewing Zone — Sept. 3-4 and Sept. 10-11 afternoon only, with a 12 bird aggregate bag including not more than four mourning doves and two white-tipped doves.
The USFWS has also indicated there will be a September teal season this year but since there were weather related delays in some surveyed areas of Canada, the final recommendation will not be made for possibly another two weeks. That means if the Service approves a nine-day season with a four-bird bag the season will run from Sept. 17-25 and if they approve 16 days the season will run from Sept. 10-25. Only teal species are legal during this season, which has a bag limit of four birds.
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