Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America

Large increases in white geese populations

The number of white geese has increased dramatically during the past several decades. The term "white geese" includes the greater snow goose, lesser snow goose, and Ross' goose. White geese nest in the arctic and sub-arctic regions of Canada, with small numbers in Alaska. Substantial numbers of white geese winter in all four Flyways, and increasing numbers winter in Mexico each year. Ross' geese have increased from about 30,000 in 1965 to over 400,000 today. Greater snow geese numbered about 30,000 in 1965 and today exceed 600,000. Lesser snow geese have increased from about 1 to 3 million during the same 30-year interval. For the most part, white geese nest in loose colonies, and the rates of population increase may vary among different nesting areas.

The rapidly increasing size of many of the nesting colonies is causing severe problems analogous to overgrazing on range lands. Evidence suggests that the large numbers of geese are destroying feeding areas needed to successfully raise their young. During fall and winter, they also are damaging their migration and wintering habitats. Along the East Coast, salt-marsh "eat-outs" have destroyed important wetland habitat in coastal marshes, resulting in long-term loss of food resources.

Management agencies have attempted to control the growth of these populations by liberalizing hunting seasons. However, due to their relatively restricted distribution and to their gregarious nature, efforts to increase harvest have failed. Despite liberalizing harvest regulations, the total harvest of white geese in the United States today is less than it was 25 years ago. Presently, some Flyways have a 107-day hunting season (the maximum season length allowed under the Migratory Bird Treaty) and a 10-bird daily bag limit, yet the number of white geese harvested has not grown. Managers are examining various alternatives to solve the white-goose overpopulation problem; however, no easy answers are presently apparent.

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Last updated: April 11, 2012