Harvest Information Program Improvement Project Leads to Better Understanding of Program

Harvest Information Program Improvement Project Leads to Better Understanding of Program

We reported in February 2021 that the wildlife agencies in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Connecticut had implemented new Harvest Information Program (HIP) procedures to improve the quality of data received from migratory bird hunters. Hunters usually obtain HIP certification while purchasing their hunting license by answering a series of screening questions. Too often, HIP certifications are issued to hunters who do not intend to hunt migratory birds or who provide incomplete or inaccurate information. The new procedures implemented in these states have hunters obtaining HIP certification by directly contacting the state agency.

Duck hunter and dog

When comparing the results from old and new procedures in Arkansas and Louisiana, over 100,000 hunters in each state were erroneously HIP certified in 2019, before the change. When we compared the peak dates of HIP certification and opening of hunting seasons, it appeared that most of the unnecessary certifications were issued to hunters at the start of big game seasons. This indicated either confusion by hunters and license vendors about licensing requirements or not understanding the purpose of HIP. The 2020 and 2021 reduction of big game hunters included in the HIP sample has led to improved estimates of the number of active migratory bird hunters and their harvest in those states. Other states are following up based on these results seeking to improve customer service and improve survey precision as observed in pilot study states. We continue to encourage states to look for opportunities to alter their HIP procedures as opportunities arise.

A 2020 study conducted by DJ Case and Associates for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that many hunters did not have a good understanding of HIP or how agencies used the harvest information for management purposes. Many hunters indicated a willingness to participate once they understood the purpose of HIP.

Brad Bortner, the Wildlife Management Institute’s HIP Project leader, participated in numerous podcasts hosted by bird hunting organizations and private podcasters over the past 3 years. Through the questions and interactions during the pilot program it became apparent that many hunters, agencies, license vendors, and licensing system developers do not fully understand HIP. It was clear HIP was widely misunderstood by not only hunters, but also by agency licensing and law enforcement personnel, license vendors, and licensing system providers.

At the March 2021 Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (AFWA) HIP Working Group meeting, Chair and Ducks Unlimited Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Karen Waldrop called for efforts to be made to communicate the importance of HIP more broadly. A small team led by Bortner developed a conceptual communication plan during 2021 after engagement by the technical sections of the four Flyway Councils. The Flyway Councils supported the conceptual plan and encouraged the AFWA HIP Working Group to finalize a plan based on this concept.

In March 2022, WMI and DJ Case and Associates presented the final communication plan to the Flyway Councils and AFWA HIP Working Group. The major objectives of the plan include developing a suite of tested communication products that can be modified and used by all states and partners in a broad campaign to raise awareness about HIP and to leverage the collective communication power of the state fish and wildlife agencies and partners. This final Communication Plan was endorsed by the Flyway Councils and AFWA HIP Working Group.

WMI, DJ Case, and Ducks Unlimited successfully partnered to secure a 2023 Multi-state Grant for implementation of the HIP Communication Plan. The communication products will be developed after testing with virtual focus groups from across the country. The purpose of the focus groups is to seek input on effective messaging through testing and refinement. Once the most effective messages are identified and refined, they will be produced as flexible digital products and images that can be used in social media, print, and other media. A web-based site will serve as a repository for these digital products. The plan seeks to help hunters, agency personnel, license vendors, and automated licensing system developers with greater understanding of HIP and its importance.

We anticipate initiating focus group testing early in 2023 with final products available later in the year. We hope that all states and migratory bird hunting partners will begin to utilize the communication products for the 2024 hunting seasons. We will make efforts to reach out to national and regional media outlets and leaders so they can amplify these efforts.

Photo Credit
Kevin Squeak, Flickr
November 16, 2022