Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America
ARCTIC ECOSYSTEMS IN PERIL: REPORT OF THE ARCTIC GOOSE HABITAT WORKING GROUP

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY


In some Arctic areas, over-abundance of several populations of Arctic-nesting geese in North America is causing extensive damage to habitats used by these geese and other wildlife. Mid-continent white goose populations are expanding at an average rate of 5%/year. Most of the major mid-continent white goose nesting colonies are being impacted and the damage is expanding annually. The prime causes of these population increases are human-induced changes to the agricultural landscape and changes in refuge provision during wintering and staging periods that lead to high winter survival and recruitment. The birds have effectively been released from winter carrying capacity restraints that sustained populations at lower levels before agriculture changed the North American landscape.

Over-grazing and over-grubbing by geese causes changes in soil salinity and moisture levels that lead to severe environmental degradation of the affected Arctic landscapes, conditions that will alter plant community structure and succession and prohibit the original plant communities from being restored. Large portions of the Arctic ecosystem are threatened with irreversible ecological degradation. Plant communities associated with goose breeding habitat are finite in area and distribution and will likely be permanently lost unless there is effective human-induced intervention to reduce the size of certain goose populations.

The Working Group recommends that the Canadian Wildlife Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service assign full-time coordinators to oversee implementation and evaluation of effective strategies to reduce mid-continent white geese to about half their current population. This major program could be advanced under an Arctic Goose Management Initiative overseen by the Arctic Goose Joint Venture. A crucial component of the initiative is the development and delivery of an effective communications strategy to inform the public at-large of the problems caused by over-abundant mid-continent white goose populations. The Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group should be retained as expert consultants and reviewers of the progress of the Initiative.

Population modelling, using mid-continent lesser snow goose data, indicates that the most effective interventions should be focused on reducing adult survival as it is the main demographic parameter driving population growth rates. The Working Group adopted the principle that any interventions should respect the birds as valuable components of the environment in general and as game animals and food. Population reduction methods that did not allow geese that were killed to be used as food were rejected. Interventions to reduce recruitment can only be effective if delivered on a massive scale that is not seen to be practical or cost effective. Reductions in adult survival is the most important demographic component to be addressed on breeding, staging and wintering areas.

The Working Group recommends that the goal of the Arctic Goose Management Initiative be to reduce mid-continent white goose numbers by 5 - 15% each year. Several control methods are described in the report, all of which can remove adult geese from the population and all of which should be considered in some places at some times. Most of them have been used in the past by hunters but were regulated against to provide the birds extra protection during an earlier era when the management goal was to increase populations. All of them involve the participation of traditional hunters who we view as being a highly motivated, well-equipped and economical labor force with an already widely-demonstrated commitment to waterfowl conservation.

We urge that the following practices be implemented by the fall of 1997 in time for the 1997/1998 mid-continent lesser snow goose hunting season: 1) legalize the use of electronic calling devices for snow goose hunting; 2) legalize baiting in special snow goose population reduction seasons, and; 3) provide additional snow goose hunting in and around state, provincial and federal refuges.

Additionally, we urge the Federal agencies to extend the harvest of snow geese for southern hunters beyond the current restrictions (March 10) in the Migratory Bird Treaty. This should be done as soon as possible - we would hope within a year of the delivery of this report. Northern native residents already have the right to harvest geese for the remainder of the year as prescribed by the Canadian Constitution. Native Canadians should be contacted and recruited, as soon as possible, to seek their participation in the management of mid-continent white geese.

This report includes an outline for an evaluation strategy which should be further developed and implemented as soon as possible. However, changes in regulations controlling white goose harvest should not be held up until an evaluation program is fully in place. It is important for managers to gain experience with the implementation of the Arctic Goose Management Initiative and there will undoubtedly be a time lag between promulgation of new regulations and the effective involvement of hunters who have limited experience with some of the new tools and time frames for hunting. There is virtually no risk of a management error causing over-harvest of mid-continent white geese within the next several years, even if all the above practices were implemented within the very near future. At the same time, it is important that the numbers of mid-continent white geese be reduced, as soon as possible, to a level that can be sustained by their Arctic habitats.

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Last updated: April 11, 2012