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Doug Leier: HIP helps monitor migratory bird harvests

The requirement for HIP registration began in 1998. Photo courtesy NDGF

Hunters have a legacy of providing biological data to wildlife managers to better help assess populations and shape hunting seasons and bag limits. One of those is the Harvest Information Program, or HIP.

This is a survey method developed by states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a means to collect more reliable estimates of migratory bird harvests throughout the country.

It got its start in the early 1990s when the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies worked with the USFWS to develop a program to collect data from all migratory bird hunters, which includes those who hunt ducks, geese, swans, sandhill cranes, doves and others.

The requirement for HIP registration began in 1998.

"Before that we used names and addresses of duck stamp buyers to send questionnaires to measure waterfowl harvest," says Mike Szymanski, North Dakota Game and Fish Department migratory game bird management supervisor. "This is no longer possible because of the way duck stamps are distributed. In addition, we had no way to get harvest survey questionnaires into the hands of other migratory game bird hunters, such as dove, snipe or woodcock hunters. Thus, we didn't have very good harvest information for most nonwaterfowl species."

Better data, more efficient survey

As part of the HIP survey, state game and fish agencies register all people hunting migratory birds within their respective states. The name/address database from each state is then sent to the USFWS, which then randomly selects a sample of hunters from the list and sends them a more detailed questionnaire to provide information on the kind and number of migratory birds they harvest during the hunting season. Those survey responses are then used to produce harvest estimates of all migratory birds throughout the country.

Responding to the mail questionnaire surveys is voluntary, but strongly encouraged.

"The greater the response rate we have on surveys, the more certainty we have in harvest estimates which allows for greater certainty in management action. If we don't have confidence in our estimates, we are forced to be more conservative in delivering regulations," Szymanski says.

He says many hunters think the simple questions they answer when they register for HIP are the actual harvest survey, but that's not the case. The HIP registration questions simply provide the statistical foundation for sampling the hunter database.

"Survey accuracy and efficiency is greatly improved if we know who is most likely to be an active dove or duck hunter, for example, and their relative activity and success," Szymanski said.

Once that is determined, the actual HIP survey is mailed to a much smaller sample of migratory game bird hunters from each state.

How to get HIP

Hunters need to register with HIP before hunting ducks, geese, swans, mergansers, coots, cranes, snipe, mourning doves or woodcock. Registration is required in every state in which you hunt migratory birds.

"Hunters play a very important role in the management and conservation of migratory game birds," Szymanski stated. "One of their easiest and most important responsibilities is to provide timely and accurate responses to harvest survey questionnaires."