The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is proposing changes to waterfowl hunting zones that would mark the first adjustment to Indiana’s traditional three-zone boundaries in more than 25 years.

The DNR’s proposal for the 2012 hunting seasons would stick with three zones but rename them North, Central and South, with the South Zone representing a significant geographic expansion and replacement for the current Ohio River Zone.

DNR surveys show two out of three Indiana resident waterfowl hunters express satisfaction with the current zone lines, but only one-third of those surveyed are satisfied with season timing.

“The point of zones is to be able to better target duck seasons when ducks are migrating,” said DNR waterfowl biologist Adam Phelps. “Changing zone lines may enable us to better address hunter preferences by better relating duck migration, and therefore season timing, to the geography of the state.”

The Ohio River Zone was first established in 1984 and covered parts of 13 counties along the Ohio River. The proposed South Zone boundary extends as far north as Terre Haute and would include all or parts of 29 counties and take in such DNR-managed properties as Fairbanks Landing, Glendale, Sugar Ridge and Wabashiki Fish & Wildlife Areas, plus Hardy Lake and Patoka Lake.

The proposed South Zone boundary follows a line along U.S. 40 from the Illinois border to U.S. 41, south to Indiana 58, and east to U.S. 50 to the Ohio border.

The proposed North Zone boundary is essentially unchanged with the exception of moving Roush Fish & Wildlife Area into the North. The Central Zone would be the area between the North and South zones.

Phelps said the current North Zone, which was last adjusted in 1986, represents a geographic split by segregating the natural lakes and wetlands part of the state into its own zone.

“But the rivers of southern Indiana have largely been relegated to Central Zone for the past two decades,” he said. “Changing zone lines in southern Indiana will allow us to capture another fundamental geographic split by bunching the lower Wabash River as well as much of the White and Muscatatuck rivers with the Ohio River in the southernmost zone.”

The new zones were derived by looking not only at geography but also at climate patterns and, most importantly, waterfowl usage.

“We survey state and federal properties weekly from August through January, and we have those data back to the mid-1980s,” Phelps said. This long-term waterfowl migration data set was very important in helping to choose the new zone boundaries.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife (USFWS) allows states to propose zone line changes every five years. The USFWS approved Indiana’s current setup of three geographic zones – North, South and Ohio River – and two split-date segments in 1991.

Until this year, the USFWS limited changes to two hunting zones with two split-date segments or three zones with no split dates. States now are being allowed to adjust boundary lines without sacrificing the number of zones or the option of split-date segments.

The detailed zone proposal and new map can be found at www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/7340.htm

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