Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America


Are There Too Many White Geese?

The answer differs for each white goose population and on whether a social/economic or biological perspective is required. Most populations of LSGO, ROGO and GSGO continue to grow, and at the landscape level (i.e., the continental scale) the system has the capacity to support further population growth. However, sufficient capacity at one time in the annual cycle (non-breeding) and in one region of their range (migration and winter) does not mean that all places on all occasions have sufficient capacity for sustained growth of populations. While the wintering areas appear to have the human- induced biological capacity to support the current high populations, the breeding grounds do not. The growth and decline of the McConnell River and other colonies of West Hudson Bay is a prime example. Staging, nesting and brood-rearing habitats in the eastern and central Canadian Arctic and some temperate staging and wintering areas show measurable short-term deterioration and cumulative degradation. The resource deficit caused by this degradation will not be easy to correct as recovery of these habitats likely will take decades.

A combination of direct and indirect human-generated factors are at the root of the twentieth century increase of Arctic geese. These major factors, such as agricultural practices and climate change, are not the responsibility of wildlife management agencies. Some conservation programs of these agencies (e.g., refuges, hunting regulations) have had an important synergistic effect on the increase in population size, (e.g., by expanding areas of suitable habitat for the birds and by dispersing geese over wide areas). Nevertheless, these agencies are left with the primary responsibility of changing the direction of population growth, if the damage caused by geese is deemed publicly unacceptable. Although agricultural economics is beyond direct wildlife agency control, it would be prudent to engage in discussions with the agricultural community about alternative agricultural practices less beneficial to geese because they play a pivotal role in the phenomenal success of geese. As long as cultivation of rice, corn and other cereal grains used by geese is economically profitable and agricultural practices remain unchanged, the output of these agro-ecosystems will allow continued population growth of geese.

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Last updated: April 11, 2012