Chris Tollefson 202-208-5634
Preliminary harvest data for mid-continent light geese compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service suggest that U.S. hunters harvested more than 1.3 million birds during the 199-2000 hunting season and during a special conservation order that allowed additional harvest after the traditional close of the season.
Combined with the expected harvest by Canadian hunters, the total harvest of mid-continent light geese will most likely exceed 1.4 million birds, the level researchers believe is needed to reduce overabundant light goose populations and begin to halt destruction of the birds' overgrazed arctic breeding grounds. Last year's U.S. harvest is a sizeable increase from the 1998-99 U.S. mid-continent harvest of 1.07 million light geese. It also represents an 80 percent increase over the 730,000 birds harvested in the U.S. during the 1997-98 season, the last season that special conservation measures were not taken.
These increasing harvest levels are good news for the long-term health of the mid-continent light goose (lesser snow goose and Ross' goose) populations, as well as that of dozens of other migratory bird species that depend on the arctic breeding grounds and migrate through or winter in the U.S.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is very appreciative of the thousands of conservation-minded hunters and supporters, along with State wildlife agencies and non-governmental organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, for pulling together to begin to solve this problem. This preliminary success would not have been possible without the cooperation of so many people and organizations, including the Congress of the United States," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark.
With preliminary reports from most States in the Central and Mississippi Flyways tabulated, the total harvest of lesser snow and Ross' geese, including harvest during both the regular season and the special conservation order, totaled 1.32 million birds, an increase of more than 23 percent over the nearly 1.1 million birds harvested during 1998-99. The preliminary estimate of harvest during the conservation order alone increased to more than 578,000 birds, from less than 342,000 birds harvested during the spring of 1999.
Texas led all States with more than 421,000 birds harvested during the regular season and conservation order, with Arkansas and Louisiana at 270,500 and 233,450 birds respectively. All reported harvest levels are preliminary and subject to change as they are verified and revised with follow-up surveys.
Harvest totals from the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan have not been included in these totals, pending compilation from the Canadian Wildlife Service. Both provinces harvested a total of nearly 148,000 light geese during the 1998-99 regular season. If they harvested approximately the same amount this past season, the total mid-continent harvest would exceed 1.4 million birds for 1999-2000.
A 1997 report authored by the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group of the Arctic Goose Joint Venture recommended that the number of mid-continent light geese be reduced by approximately 50 percent by 2005, in order to halt the destruction of arctic breeding habitat caused by overgrazing. A recent report by arctic goose researchers estimates that reaching that target requires an annual harvest of 1.4 million geese.
Increasing agricultural and refuge development along waterfowl flyways through the Midwest and South has provided light geese with ample forage during their yearly migrations. As a result, adult mortality rates for light geese have fallen steadily over the past three decades, triggering explosive population growth. The annual winter population index of mid-continent light geese has tripled in the past 30 years, from just over 800,000 birds in 1969 to approximately 2.6 million birds last winter. The total number of birds on known breeding colonies likely exceeds 5 million birds in spring. The fragile Canadian arctic, with its short growing season, cannot support populations of that size. For example, large areas of the breeding grounds around Hudson Bay have been denuded of all vegetation by geese through overgrazing, grubbing and shoot-pulling, a situation that scientists believe may also be contributing to the decline of breeding populations of other migratory bird species that share the breeding grounds and winter in the United States.
In 1999, the Service allowed 24 midwestern and southern States to take conservation measures aimed at reducing the population of mid-continent light geese. Designed to halt widening destruction of fragile arctic breeding habitat caused by exploding populations of lesser snow and Ross' geese, the measures were implemented in February of 1999, but were subsequently challenged in court. The regulations were withdrawn in May of 1999 to prevent further litigation.
After withdrawing the rules, the Service began the process of compiling an Environmental Impact Statement that will determine its long-term management strategy for overabundant lesser snow and Ross' geese populations, as well as the rapidly increasing greater snow goose population. A draft EIS is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with a final EIS anticipated in 2001.
Concerned that the length of the EIS process would leave the Service and State wildlife agencies without the ability to take action during the Spring of 2000, Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife, introduced legislation in July of 1999 that reinstated the rules. The legislation, which extends until May 15, 2001, gives States the ability to take measures to reduce light goose populations pending completion of the EIS, thus preventing a delay that only compounds the problem. The legislation was approved by Congress and signed by President Clinton last November.
The measures give States in the Central and Mississippi Flyways the flexibility to allow the use of normally prohibited electronic goose calls and unplugged shotguns during the remaining weeks of their light goose seasons in the spring, provided that other waterfowl and crane seasons have been closed. States have also been given the authority to implement a conservation order under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that would allow hunters to take light geese outside of traditional migratory bird hunting season frameworks- especially after March 10, when seasons typically close. Both rules give States a better opportunity to increase their light goose harvests.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
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information on light geese from the Division of Migratory