JACKSON, Miss. – Congressional delegations from Mississippi and Arkansas want the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with them to allow hunting over a rolled rice fields.

Lawmakers said federal and state wildlife agencies are calling hunting over rolled rice fields illegal field baiting.

Cochran said citing hunters is “a case of federal agencies working at cross purposes, leaving farmers and hunters in a bind.”

The legislation backed by U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., died in the past Congress. U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., whose district is the largest rice producer in the state, tells The Commercial Appeal that he will introduce the bill this year.

Duck hunting season ends this month in Mississippi and Arkansas.

The legislation also makes it legal to shoot coots and cranes over rolled fields.

Herbert Hartwell Huddleston III of Leland, Miss., said he used to lease out some of his land in Bolivar and Washington counties to winter duck hunters. When wildlife officers told the hunters they couldn’t hunt over manipulated rice stubble, the hunters asked for their money back.

Memphis-based Ducks Unlimited CEO H. Dale Hall said the clarification is long overdue.

“This issue has arisen in previous years in regard to rice fields and has again resurfaced,” he said, referring to second “volunteer” rice crops coming up after an initial summer harvest.

“Ducks Unlimited believes there needs to be very clear regulations and guidance for hunters and law enforcement to follow. Ducks Unlimited believes that if a crop has been harvested, farmers, landowners or hunters should be able to follow normal agricultural practices to prepare fields for subsequent growing seasons and also hunt migratory waterfowl in those fields,” Hall said.

Thomas E. Moorman, director of Science and Public Policy for Ducks Unlimited’s Southern region, said a million of acres of rice are grown in the Lower Mississippi Valley along a major flight path for migratory ducks and geese.

Moorman said the second growth in rice – called “ratoon” – is often not worth the cost to harvest.

If it is harvested, there’s no problem hunting over it. If it’s rolled flat to rot in the field through the winter that can be interpreted as baiting, he said.

He said the burden is always on the hunter to determine whether he or she is hunting legally.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife spokesman Brent Lawrence said most citations for field baiting are made by state and local enforcement officials with “an incredibly small percentage” resulting in federal charges under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Said Wicker: “Many Mississippi landowners traditionally lease farmland to sportsmen after the land has been harvested, but some of these leases have had to be returned because of Fish and Wildlife Service requirements, costing farmers and sportsmen.”

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