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

GEESE IN RELATION TO PEOPLE


A full review of human interactions with growing populations of geese is beyond the scope of this report. Here we discuss consumptive uses of geese, primarily lesser snow geese and Canada geese by aboriginal people in Canada (Table 2.2, Fig. 2.21, K. Dickson, CWS data). Waterfowl in general are important in the provisioning of aboriginal communities with meat. Snow geese and Canada geese are particularly important over a broad area. Clearly, however, the importance numerically is greatest among Cree communities of the Hudson Bay Lowland in southern Hudson Bay. The communities in the Ontario portion have been surveyed periodically for over four decades (see below).

Aboriginal Land Use in the Hudson Bay Lowland

A land-based economy remains a major component of the mixed economies of most aboriginal communities in the lowlands of southern Hudson Bay and western James Bay region (Berkes et al. 1994, 1995). Within this region of Ontario, the Cree place considerable emphasis on land use in relation to self-governance, and for strengthening land use and hunting traditions in communities. The population there is concentrated in Moosonee and eight First Nation Communities, Moose Factory, Mocreebec, New Post, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, Peawanuck and Fort Severn (Fig. 2.22). All settlements are members of the Mushkegowuk Harvesters Association who share the coastal region and use the same wildlife populations (Berkes et al. 1995). In addition, in the Manitoba portion of the Hudson Bay lowlands, the town of Churchill has a Cree population with its own Council, and the First Nation community of Shamattawa has a history of seasonal use of coastal areas for wildlife harvesting. In Québec, the Cree communities of eastern James Bay share many of the cultural traditions of the Ontario James Bay Cree, including heavy reliance on waterfowl, and their regional economies are similar (James Bay and Northern Québec Native Harvesting Research Committee 1976, Boyd 1977).

The information given below is based on mapping of harvest sites and the collection of data from hunters among the resident aboriginal population in the Ontario portion of the region (Prevett et al. 1983, Thompson and Hutchison 1989, Berkes et al. 1994, 1995) and does not include Manitoba and Québec portions of the Lowland.

Major harvesting activities

Of the major wildlife harvesting activities, the spring waterfowl hunt attracted about 14,000 person-days of harvesting effort in 1990 and the fall waterfowl hunt about 10,000 person-days, the most recent year for which data are available (Berkes et al. 1994). Most harvesters spent 10 to 50 days per year hunting. Harvest of Canada geese dominates the spring hunt and harvest of lesser snow geese dominates in the fall, with some variation between localities. In spring, geese are hunted along inland drainage basins as well as on the coast and the season is shorter compared to that in late summer and fall. Hunters from Kashechewan, Fort Albany and Attawapiskat stay close to the coast in spring but range more extensively in fall. There is considerable overlap in community hunting areas. Overall, two communities, Moose Factory and Kashechewan, accounted for over half of the hunting effort and most communities spent more time waterfowl hunting than any other hunting activity.

Native Goose Harvest in the Hudson Bay Lowland of Ontario

The reported number of Canada geese killed in 1990 was 40,676 and the figure for lesser snow geese was 38,022. Projected estimates of total number of birds taken in the region by First Nations

people were 56,536 and 55,076, respectively, for the two species (Berkes et al. 1994). Of all hunters reporting, 80%-90% participated in the waterfowl hunt in both seasons (Berkes et al. 1994, Prevett et al. 1983). The recent estimates of kill and participation are similar to those of a decade earlier (48,977 Canada geese and 50,146 snow geese, Thompson and Hutchison 1989). The estimates for Canada geese are higher than those from the mid 1970s (range 17,577-23,508 for 3 years; Prevett, Lumsden and Johnson 1983) and also higher for snow geese except in one year (range 31,284-50,334 over the same 3 years). Estimates of snow goose kill are also higher than reported for the 1950s (35,000-40,000; Hanson and Currie 1957). Increased harvests are primarily due to an increase in the aboriginal population of the Lowland. The harvest per hunter (often equated with household) has stayed very similar over the decades. The mean annual waterfowl kill per hunter was nearly 100; for snow geese it averaged 37 per hunter over the whole coast, with variations among communities (Prevett et al. 1983). The mean waterfowl kill per harvester was 93.7 in 1990 (Berkes et al. 1994); for snow geese it was 38.7 (Table 2.2).

It is interesting to note that the harvest of snow geese, while higher, has not risen proportionately with the increase in the mid-continent population from which the birds are taken. This may indicate that increasing aboriginal harvest for management of high populations (Johnson 1997) might be difficult to achieve. Hunters from the James Bay communities have stated that the fall snow goose hunt is poorer than it used to be; they complain of fewer birds being present in James Bay (in contrast to the known growth of the meta-population) and also that flocks are more difficult to decoy. Disproportionate changes in populations around the Hudson Bay region (i.e., higher in the west) or changes in migration routes could explain an observation of fewer geese in James Bay. The extreme south end of James Bay historically provided major staging habitat for reproductively successful snow geese (i.e., families with young) (Prevett et al. 1982). A partial explanation for the elders’ observations of more difficult hunting may be that flocks now generally have a smaller proportion of young (because of high pre-fledging and immediate post-fledging gosling mortality); thus they would react differently to decoys. Elders from Peawanuck and Moose Factory have also related to us that geese are thinner and taste different (worse) than in the past. This thinning may be a result of habitat degradation which influences accumulation of nutrients and the taste difference may be related to depletion of primary forage species and use by geese of other plants.

Estimated Food Value of the Native Harvest in the Hudson Bay Lowland of Ontario

In the region as a whole, the estimated edible weight of Canada geese killed was 120,000 kg/yr and for lesser snow geese the value was 88,000 kg/yr (Berkes et al. 1994). The protein equivalent is approximately 24 g protein 100 g-1 meat. The protein available from all bush foods was estimated to be 97 g per adult per day in the region (Berkes et al. 1994). The replacement value of waterfowl in 1990 was between $8.14 and $11.40 per kg of edible meat in stores (poultry) in settlements.

The tradition of wildlife harvesting appears to be very strong in the region and represents a major contribution to the overall regional economy and cultural sustainability of the Hudson Bay Lowland Cree. A similar economy exists in James Bay and Ungava, Québec and although magnitude of aboriginal waterfowl harvest is much less elsewhere, it is no less important culturally and in terms of food value.

Harvest in Canada and the United States

Trends in harvest and hunter numbers are shown in Fig. 2.9a for areas in the central United States and Canada where mid-continent lesser snow geese are hunted. As noted, the number of geese harvested and the harvest rate have declined in both countries as the population of geese has increased. Many factors are cited for the declines, including large flocks, flocking behavior that makes decoying difficult, a preponderance of experienced adults and a wealth of choices of feeding areas. Harvest per hunter has increased, particularly in the Central Flyway and this has compensated somewhat for the decline in hunter numbers, but not sufficiently to keep harvest rate from declining.

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Last updated: April 11, 2012