Waterfowlers in Southern Illinois have until Thursday to comment on proposed waterfowl regulation changes for the 2021-2025 seasons.

Every five years the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allows states to make changes to waterfowl hunting zones and split-season options. Zone lines and season dates are currently set through the 2020 season.

In preparation for the comment period the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has held meetings around the state where hunters were presented information on waterfowl abundance, harvest, average freeze dates, and current zone lines. Hunters were also given the opportunity to speak to IDNR waterfowl biologists.

Hunters who were unable to attend the meetings can now submit their comments and suggestions to DNR.DuckTalk@illinois.gov.

“Everyone has an opinion,” said Randy Smith, the IDNR’s chief waterfowl biologist, “Waterfowl regulations are very much a compromise. Even getting 50% of folks in a given zone to be satisfied is pretty challenging. We kind of have to shoot for the middle of what people are wanting.

“The mood of the meetings was very civil. We have a couple of proposed changes on the table. The folks in favor of it are passionate about it, the folks against it are also passionate.”

The primary change being proposed is a change in borders of the Central and South Central waterfowl zones. Smith said hunters in the eastern half of the South Central zone target mallards in fields and cooling lakes. For that reason, they want later opening dates.

“We have to set zone lines for a five-year period,” Smith said. “When that comes around we want to do our full due diligence to make sure we are meeting of desires of folks and match up those desires when waterfowl are around.”

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There are also proposed changes that would place some areas of the South Central Zone into the South Zone. Those areas include Oakwood Bottoms and Kinkaid Lake. The proposed plan would leave the entirety of Rend Lake in the South Central Zone.

“These lines are not set in stone,” Smith said. “We’re trying to figure out how to fine tune them. If something needs to move and there is good justification for it, we can do that. We want to follow major routes (highways) so people can pick up a road map and see where they are at.”

There is also a movement to set hunting dates later throughout the state. Federal law was changed in the past couple years, allowing duck season dates to run until January 31.

“We have not formulated a proposal yet,” Smith said. “We have our survey data, responses from open house attendees and now we’ll have the email comment period.”

Hunters in some parts of the state are asking for split seasons, a situation where hunters would be allowed to hunt, followed by a down period and a resumption in hunting dates. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not allow split seasons in states that have more than three hunting zones.

After a protracted battle, Illinois was granted a fourth waterfowl zone the last time dates were set.

“In order to do that, we have to get rid of a zone,” Smith said. “Which zone do you take away? If we were to try to implement that right now, I don’t think we’d make anyone happy.

“In 2015 and meetings prior to that there was virtually no desire for a split. Everyone wanted that fourth zone. The support for a split has realty ramped up the last couple of years. I don’t think we have enough information to make that work.”

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