|ARCTIC ECOSYSTEMS IN PERIL: REPORT OF THE ARCTIC GOOSE HABITAT WORKING
BRUCE BATT, Ducks Unlimited, Inc., Memphis, TN 38120
Waterfowl managers have achieved considerable success with goose
populations over the past several decades. Although a few populations
remain problematic, most are near, or above, long-term numerical goals.
These successes have come about as a result of several factors inherent to
the biology of geese that allow them to be more easily managed and because
of preadaptations that have allowed geese to successfully exploit human
Most goose populations have fairly definitive breeding, migration and
wintering ranges where harvest and habitat management strategies and
refuges can be targeted for the benefit of the birds. Also, since geese
are grazers, the quality of their feeding habitats throughout most of
their migratory and wintering ranges has actually improved with
agricultural and urban development. Most goose species have adapted to
feeding on waste agricultural grains or on newly planted crops. A few
species, especially some Canada geese, have adapted to feeding in urban
areas where they exploit fertilized and manicured corporate lawns, golf
courses and public parks, as well as nearby agricultural areas.
During the past two decades, several populations have exceeded
management goals and, even in the face of increased bag limits and longer
season lengths, have continued to increase in number. This has been most
conspicuous for some Arctic-nesting white geese (lesser snow geese,
greater snow geese, Ross' geese) and Canada geese that are resident in
areas of southern Canada and the lower 48 states. Management goals have
also been exceeded for other populations but have not yet gained much
attention from managers or the public. There is an emerging pattern of
many goose populations having moved beyond waterfowl managers' ability to
affect population size using traditional methods of controlling bag limits
and season lengths.
Waterfowl managers have typically been motivated to maintain breeding
populations at numbers that provide some sustainable harvest. Most
management paradigms relate to protecting, building or restoring the size
of breeding populations. There are few management programs to deal with
overabundant populations of waterfowl other than for problems in local
situations where birds cause damage to agricultural crops or where they
are a nuisance in some urban areas. Indeed, there is no well- developed
consensus on whether higher than targeted populations of waterfowl are
good, neutral or problematic, such as there is for wildlife like
white-tailed deer. There has been little debate on bigger ecological
concerns such as the carrying capacity of breeding, wintering or staging
areas or long-term ecosystem impacts of excessive grazing and grubbing by
There is a growing body of literature on the effects of excessively high
numbers of geese which reduce habitat integrity and gosling survival,
growth rates and adult body size of lesser snow geese (e.g. Cooke et
al. 1995). A series of papers delivered at the Eighth North American
Arctic Goose Conference and Workshop in Albuquerque, New Mexico in
February 1995 identified the occurrence of these observations on several
different colonies, including other species, across the Arctic. Subsequent
discussions, popular press articles in Ducks Unlimited Magazine (Young
1993) and American Hunter Magazine (Bourne 1995), correspondence between
Working Group member Dr. Dave Ankney and officials in the Canadian
Wildlife Service and the publication of Ankney (1996) heightened
scientists' and public officials' awareness of possible problems with
overabundant goose populations.
The upshot was an ad hoc workshop of about 50 scientists and managers on
the topic at the Arctic Goose Joint Venture Technical Committee and
Management Board Meetings at Oak Hammock Marsh, Manitoba in October 1995.
The charge to the workshop was to review what was known about the extent
of the problem, particularly as it related to impacts on habitats and
other species, and to advise the AGJV on what future actions should be
undertaken. That group concluded that over-abundant goose populations
could well be a serious long-term management problem and advised the AGJV
Management Board that a working group should be established "to
develop a scientific approach to the problem of habitat degradation".
They recommended that the group should consist of about 16 individuals
representing government and non-government conservation organizations in
the U.S. and Canada. The AGJV took this advice and formed the group that
is responsible for this report.
The Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group met for the first time at the
Ducks Unlimited Symposium in Memphis, Tennessee in February 1996. At that
time, the general plan for this report was established. The approach was
endorsed by the AGJV Management Board in March, 1996 at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Working Group agreed to complete the report by the end of October,
1996 for review by the AGJV Management Board.
The Working Group operated under two guiding principles. Foremost, was
that the Group's work would be guided by traditional standards of
scientific scrutiny and objectivity. Our charge was to provide the AGJV
Management Board with a strong biologically-based report, free from bias
imposed by political pressures, or by any predispositions that individual
Group members might have had as the process started. The second principle
was adopted as the process unfolded and we reviewed possible management
actions that might be taken to reduce the size of mid-continent white
goose populations. We decided that any management action recommended by
the Group would be based on the principle that the birds are valuable
natural resources, as game animals and as food. Thus, we did not consider
any recommendations that advocated slaughter and destruction of birds
followed by their being wasted in land fills or some similar fate.
Part II presents a comprehensive analysis of the published and
unpublished information on the growth of several populations of geese, the
causes of these changes and the impacts on habitat and the birds
themselves. Lastly, it comments on the long-term implications of these
changes to the future of Arctic and sub-Arctic habitats used by breeding
geese. This section, compiled by Drs. Kenneth Abraham of the Ontario
Ministry of Natural Resources, and Robert Jefferies of the University of
Toronto, provides the technical background that confirms the scope and
implications of allowing some goose populations to continue to expand in
size and distribution. This information established the basis for the
Working Group's core conclusion that some measures must be taken to reduce
populations back to a more sustainable level.
Part III was developed by Drs. Robert Rockwell of the American Museum of
Natural History, Evan Cooch of Simon Fraser University and Solange Brault
of the University of Massachusetts. It presents a population model, based
on best estimates of parameters from a long-term study of lesser snow
geese nesting at La Pérouse Bay (see Cooke et al. 1995) on
the west coast of Hudson Bay. It develops several scenarios of possible
interventions that management might take to reduce the mid-continent snow
goose population. Several explicit assumptions are made and explained
including the current size of the population, a desired time span for
reducing it and a target population of approximately 50% of the current
size. The major conclusion is that the most effective management measures
must be directed towards reducing adult survival.
Part IV, by Michael Johnson of the North Dakota Game and Fish
Department, describes a collection of possible management interventions
that might be used to reduce the size of mid-continent snow goose
populations. It has been the subject of several reviews by the Working
Group and has had additional input from waterfowl managers across the U.S.
and Canada. Some measures that were originally included were deleted after
the Working Group formally adopted the principle of respect for the birds
as game animals and as food. Biologists from the Mississippi and Central
Flyway Technical Sessions provided very helpful advice on the content and
organization of Part IV.
Part V was prepared by Dr. Don Rusch of the Wisconsin Cooperative
Wildlife Research Unit, and Dale Caswell of the Canadian Wildlife Service.
It recommends that a combination of four population and habitat components
should be monitored to evaluate progress towards the goals of the Arctic
goose management initiative called for in this Working Group report. These
are: harvest rates, adult survival rates, goose population status and the
status of coastal tundra habitats.
Finally, Part VI represents the Working Group's conclusions and
recommendations. All Working Group members had opportunities to contribute
to all portions of the report throughout its development.
The Working Group acknowledges the encouragement and interest of AGJV
Management Board Chairmen, Gerald McKeating of the Canadian Wildlife
Service, and Paul Schmidt of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. These
individuals provided on-going encouragement that the Working Group's
advise would be taken seriously in the development of federal agency
action programs to resolve problems caused by over abundant mid-continent
snow geese. They kept the group free from bureaucratic and political
restraints and provided travel support for some academically-based members
who would not have been able to participate without this help.
This report was presented to the Arctic Goose Joint Venture Management
Board on October 30, 1996 in Smyrna, Delaware. The Management Board
endorsed the report and forwarded it to the Secretary of the Interior in
the U.S., the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minister
of the Environment in Canada and the Director General of the Canadian
Wildlife Service. They recommended that the two federal agencies take
action to reduce mid-continent snow goose populations to the levels
suggested by the Working Group. They further recommended that a task force
be established by March of 1997 to develop an effective management
program, to be implemented by the fall of 1998, that would reduce
populations and reverse the destruction of Arctic goose habitats caused by
over-abundant mid-continent snow geese.
The group received input at two meetings from representatives of
communities in northern Canada, namely from: Ginette Lajoie and Kenny
Blacksmith of the Grand Council of the Crees, and; Noah Muckpau of the
Arviat Hunters and Trappers organization. CWS representatives, Kathy Dixon
and Steve Wendt attended one meeting and provided valuable perspectives.
Scott Stephens of the Conservation Programs Group (CPG) at Ducks Unlimited
provided extensive logistic and technical assistance in assembling this
report. Paula Booker and Marvin Coleman, of the CPG, Chuck Petrie of DU
Magazine and Cecille Birchler and Karen Almand of DU's Creative Services
staff provided other valuable assistance. Other acknowledgements by
individual writing team members are included in each part of the report,
however, one individual, Dr. Austin Reid of the Canadian Wildlife Service,
provided an especially valuable critique of the last draft.
We also extend our appreciation to the organizations for which we work
as they allowed time (and travel expense for many members) for our
participation in this effort. This amounted to a considerable commitment
for several individuals and organizations. We hope the comprehensiveness
and timeliness of this report vindicate that their trust was well placed
and that we contribute meaningfully to the reversal of the current path to
habitat destruction in large portions of the Arctic ecosystem.
Ankney, C.D. 1996. An embarrassment of riches: too many geese. J. Wildl.
Manage. 60:217- 223.
Bourne, W. 1995. The snow goose dilemma. American Hunter 23:40-41,
Cooke, F., R.F. Rockwell, and D.B. Lank. 1995. The Snow Geese of La Pérouse
Bay. Oxford Univ. Press. New York, N.Y. 297pp.
Young, M. 1993. Arctic snows. Ducks Unlimited Magazine 1993:49-51.
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