Contact: Bonnie Strawser - 252-473-1131
News ReleaseJune 26, 2006
Photo credit: D Menke
In the fall, thousands of ducks (including the Northern Pintail, pictured here), geese, and swans arrive on
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, hungry from a long flight and ready to "fatten up" for the return flight in the spring.
Rapidly growing populations of resident Canada geese are depleting food supplies-
literally stealing food from migratory waterfowl for which the refuge was established.
Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge Habitat Protected for Wildlife
Resident Canada Geese, though a sought-after wildlife observation target for some refuge visitors, have become a serious problem for migratory waterfowl on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Pea Island was established as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife. Because the resident goose numbers have grown and they are on the refuge all year, there is little food left to provide for the needs of the migrant geese, swans and ducks when they arrive in the fall. Refuge Manager Mike Bryant announced today that refuge staff are rounding up the resident geese and removing them from the refuge. "Our mission is 'Wildlife First’ – Pea Island is for migratory birds", Bryant explained, "And, these particular birds are not migratory birds, even though they may look like them." The round-up is a joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture and the US Fish and Wildlife Service and began today in late afternoon.
Providing optimum wintering habitat for waterfowl, providing optimum habitat for migratory birds, and maintaining habitat for native and endangered species are key strategies for achieving refuge goals and fulfilling the refuge purpose. While managers have always recognized a need to control certain nuisance species such as nutria and muskrat in order to implement certain management practices, resident Canada geese have been identified as a nuisance population only in the past few years.
During the 1980’s there was a program statewide to establish a resident Canada goose population. This program was highly successful, so much that in many places the populations have become nuisances. In recent years, resident Canada goose numbers have increased sharply at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Today greater than 250 geese may be observed feeding in managed impoundments on any given day during the breeding season. On occasion as many as 400 resident geese have been counted feeding in the impoundments during a time when the refuge is trying to produce food (submerged aquatic vegetation) for migratory birds.
Because of the increasing numbers of resident Canada geese, significant impacts on wintering habitat are occurring. Resident geese are consuming 60-80% of the submerged aquatic vegetation in the impoundments before migratory birds arrive. Upon arrival, migratory birds (especially waterfowl) are forced to migrate further in the search of adequate food during harsh winter conditions. There are also public safety concerns. In some places, goose populations have increased to levels that create driving hazards. Resident geese are very comfortable around people and don’t exhibit the same avoidance behavior common in wild birds. As a result, they tend to congregate near and on roads and in parking areas. To correct these problems, it is necessary to exercise population management/control on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge for resident Canada geese.
Several alternatives were considered to correct the problem. Trapping and relocation is suggested by many people. Trapping resident geese is not a difficult task provided the work is done in late June or early July while the birds are molting. During this time they are flightless and can be herded into pens, caught, loaded into transport trailers, and relocated to a new area. The problem is the geese will return to the refuge. Also, there seems to be no place to release them. No one wants to have these geese relocated to their areas.
In some places, nuisance bird populations are managed by shaking or oiling the eggs, so they don’t hatch. Simply put, there is neither enough staff nor adequate funding to implement such a program. And, nesting on the refuge occurs in relatively low numbers. Even if all nests were found and all eggs treated, it would not fix the problem. Most of the resident birds either fly, walk, or swim into the refuge.
Some thought was given to having a resident goose hunt during the NC resident goose season. But, Pea Island was established as an “inviolate sanctuary” for migratory waterfowl. The only time the resident geese can be distinguished from the migratory birds is during the summer through September when they migrants aren’t here. Hunters don’t seem to be interested in a September hunt – they say it’s just too hot.
Trapping and euthanizing the resident geese has been chosen as the most reasonable and prudent way to deal with the problem. The geese will be herded into pens during the molt and loaded into a transport trailer. All trapped geese will be taken to a remote site and euthanized in a carbon dioxide chamber – which is a humane process. Euthanized geese will either be buried or frozen to use as food for the red wolf. This approach will require close coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Wildlife Services. A contract for their services and equipment use is in effect. This approach is the most reasonable method for removing significant numbers of resident Canada geese from the refuge.
Refuge Biologist Dennis Stewart commented, “If the refuge does nothing, the current population of resident geese will continue to grow. Within a short time frame, those birds will be consuming virtually all of the food that is intended for migratory waterfowl. This is simply not acceptable.” Blood samples will be taken from the birds that are taken from the refuge to test for avian influenza and other diseases.
The methods for trapping and removing resident geese were approved in the Proposed Action in the Final Environmental Impact Statement on Resident Canada Goose Management (FEIS). This FEIS was subjected to the required 30-day review and comment period in November (70 FR 69985) and has been awaiting the Record of Decision since December. Approval was received recently.
Questions or comments about this activity should be directed to Dennis Stewart at 252-473-1131 ext. 231 or firstname.lastname@example.org