November 29, 1999 Chris Tollefson 202-208-5634
PRESIDENT SIGNS SNOW GOOSE BILL TO PROTECT ARCTIC
President Clinton has signed legislation reinstating interim population
control measures for mid-continent light geese implemented last winter and
spring by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As directed by the
legislation, the Service will notify 24 Midwestern and Southern states
that they are allowed to take conservation measures in the winter and
spring of 2000 aimed at reducing the population of mid-continent light
Designed to halt widening destruction of fragile arctic migratory bird
breeding habitat caused by exploding populations of lesser snow and Ross'
geese, the measures were implemented on Feb. 16, but were withdrawn in May
after a legal challenge.
The Service has since begun work on 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 in
the Spring of 2000, with a final EIS anticipated next summer. Congress'
action will not affect the Service's work on the EIS.
Concerned that the length of the EIS process would leave the Service and
state wildlife agencies without the ability to take action next spring,
Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., chairman of the House Resources Subcommittee on
Fisheries and Wildlife, introduced legislation in July that reinstated the
rules. The legislation 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 on Nov. 10, and signed by President Clinton on Nov. 24.
"We appreciate the support of Chairman Saxton and other members of
Congress for our efforts to protect these priceless breeding grounds from
further devastation. We have long understood the need to take action and
have been working to implement a long-term management strategy as quickly
as possible" said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "Our
work on the EIS will go on, but the legislation gives states the ability
to act in the interim to protect the priceless arctic habitat."
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 after March 10, outside of traditional
migratory bird hunting season frameworks. Both rules give states a better
opportunity to increase their light goose harvests.
Fourteen states implemented all or part of the population control
measures last year, contributing to a harvest of mid-continent light geese
estimated at more than 1.07 million birds for the 1998-99 season. That
harvest represents a 46 percent increase over the 730,000 birds harvested
in the Central and Mississippi Flyways during the previous season, when no
conservation measures were taken. Estimates provided by participating
states and compiled by the Service indicate that the special harvest
provisions resulted in a combined harvest of more than 438,000 birds.
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.
Annual winter population counts of mid-continent light geese estimate
that the population has more than tripled in the past 30 years, from just
over 800,000 birds in 1969 to approximately 2.8 million birds last winter.
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, 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.
The Bills provisions take effect with the Prsidents
signature. The Service will publish a future notice in the Federal
Register advising states of their ability to participate in the
conservation measures. State wildlife commissions must then decide whether
to participate, and under what circumstances.
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 comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of
small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66
national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance
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