Hunters possess a long history of taking actions that benefit wildlife conservation. They tax themselves and buy licenses, permits and stamps that support the vitality of both game and non-game animals.
The Harvest Information Program (H.I.P.) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an evolution of these long-standing practices. This year, changes to the program caused some consternation among outdoors enthusiasts who must answer a few questions after purchasing their Kentucky Migratory Game Bird- Waterfowl Hunting Permit.
“People are always concerned about change,” said John Brunjes, migratory bird program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We previously collected this information in a manner that produced insufficient harvest data. So, we are changing how we do it.”
Brunjes explained the changes are not made to place an additional burden on hunters. “We are doing this because we need this data,” he said. “We wouldn’t ask people to do a little extra if this data wasn’t critical for the scientific management of these species.”
The H.I.P. program came about because biologists and management professionals at both the state and federal level realized they didn’t have an accurate number of migratory bird hunters.
“We could guess by the number of migratory bird – waterfowl hunting permits sold,” Brunjes said. “But, those who purchase a senior/disabled license or a Sportsman’s license get a permit with their license, whether they hunt migratory birds or not.”
A similar situation exists for the federal migratory bird hunting permit, commonly called a duck stamp. Many purchase them to help with conservation of waterfowl, but don’t hunt. You can also use a current duck stamp for free entry into national wildlife refuges that charge a daily use fee.
“Consequently, we didn’t know how many birds were being harvested,” Brunjes said. “The H.I.P. survey gives us a tool to tell us how many hunters we have in Kentucky. It also shows us how many of each species is being harvested as well as the age and sex ratio of the harvested birds.”
Completing the H.I.P. survey allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to classify hunters into a sampling group based on the species hunted and the number of migratory birds harvested in order to get more comprehensive, voluntary information later.
“They may contact you via mail to participate in these surveys or they may ask you to participate in a wing collection survey,” Brunjes said. “This information gives biologists at the state and federal level more accurate data to help better manage these populations.”
Inconsistent data in Kentucky and across the nation usually means more conservative dove, duck and goose seasons.
The fluctuation in the daily duck bag limit for canvasback ducks over the past 10 to 12 years is an example of the impact of insufficient data. This data also showed a dove harvest estimate of about 633,000 birds in 2013, but only 255,000 birds last year. This wild fluctuation is likely rooted in inconsistent H.I.P. data.
“It costs Kentucky hunters more opportunity afield,” Brunjes said.
The H.I.P. process is simple and it takes less than five minutes. On the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife webpage at fw.ky.gov, click on the “My Profile” tab on the upper left section of the page. This will bring you to a page that asks for some basic information to confirm your identity. After completing the H.I.P. questions, you will receive a confirmation number that must be written on your hunting license or Kentucky Migratory Game Bird – Waterfowl Hunting Permit.
When you purchase licenses and permits online, you are given the option to go to the My Profile page, via a box that appears on the screen. If you buy them from a license vendor or over the phone, you’ll have to go the “My Profile” page to fill out the H.I.P. questionnaire or call Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to complete it.
“We prefer hunters to do it online if possible,” Brunjes said. “We want Kentucky hunters to have quality hunting in the future. That is why we need this important information now.”
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.