Stiller, J.C., W.F. Siemer, K.A. Perkins, and A.K. Fuller. 2022. Choosing an optimal duck season: Integrating hunter values and duck abundance. Wildlife Society Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1002/wsb.1313
State wildlife agencies have long struggled to identify optimal hunting season dates for migratory game bird species that meet the diverse and often competing interests of stakeholders. Many approaches have been used to ensure the regulated community is involved in the decision-making process, including public hearings, hunter season-date preference surveys, and hunter task forces or committees. Although these approaches include portions of the regulated community (i.e., typically the most avid) they may not necessarily reflect the opinions and values of all stakeholders. Additionally, these approaches rely heavily on limited anecdotal observations that may be unduly influenced by hunter avidity (e.g. days spent afield), hunter density, species preferences, and property access. To address these challenges, we used a structured decision-making framework that included a duck hunter survey to elucidate values of a representative sample of the regulated community in each duck hunting zone in New York State. Rather than asking duck hunters about their specific duck hunting season date preferences, we asked them to rank 6 objectives describing what they value in their hunting experience (e.g., maximizing the opportunity to see mallards [Anas platyrhynchos] and black duck [Anas rubripes], maximizing the number of weekend days, etc.). Four of the 6 objectives described duck species availability (i.e., abundance or immigration). We used spatiotemporal abundance models derived from eBird citizen science data to estimate abundance and immigration rates of ducks in each waterfowl zone. We evaluated up to 9 unique season date alternatives developed by duck hunter task forces to determine which season date alternative best satisfied the competing objectives of duck hunters in each zone. The approach we developed allowed for selection of optimal duck hunting season dates and successfully involved avid duck hunters in the development stages, while ensuring that the values of a representative sample of all stakeholders were directly considered through a clear and transparent decision-making process.