Migratory Bird Program
Conserving the Nature of America

Geese Management

Geese and swans in North America are managed by population, with 30 goose and 4 swan populations recognized . Geese and swans are long-lived birds that require several years to reach maturity. Most goose and swan populations in North America are numerically sound, with many populations increasing. Numbers of locally breeding Canada geese are increasing rapidly throughout the conterminous United States, with many populations now at levels where agricultural depredations and urban conflicts are common. The Service has responded to these increasing resident goose populations by increasing hunting opportunity on these birds. Special goose seasons are widely used throughout the USA. However, in some situations, especially in urban areas where hunting can't occur, goose numbers and problems continue to grow. The Service is working with other federal agencies and with state wildlife agencies to devise coordinated and consistent guidelines for control measures and to define roles and responsibilities for dealing with nuisance problems.

The status of several migratory Canada goose populations that nest in arctic or subarctic regions continue to trouble managers. Among others, managers continue to be concerned with the status of the Atlantic, Southern James Bay, and Dusky Canada Goose Populations. The Atlantic Population of migrant Canada geese, which nests in northern Quebec, has declined sharply since the late 1980's. Cooperative surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service(Service), the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the Atlantic Flyway Council on the Ungava Peninsula of northern Quebec show that numbers of breeding pairs of Canada geese have fallen 75 percent since 1988, from 118,000 to 29,000. Several years of poor habitat conditions and low recruitment combined with high harvest rates are thought to be the cause for the decline. Since migrant geese do not breed until they are 3 or 4 years old, relatively high survival is necessary for population maintenance. In 1995, the Atlantic Flyway Council recommended that the hunting season be closed in the U.S. and Canada. The Service agreed, and closed the season on migrant Canada geese throughout the Atlantic Flyway. Also, Canada participated by closing the hunting season in portions of Ontario and Quebec. However, closing the general Canada goose season exacerbates the resident-goose problem. Resident Canada geese that would have been harvested during the season are not. The Service is expanding harvest opportunities on resident birds by holding special seasons in early fall prior to the arrival of the migrants.

The Southern James Bay Population (SJBP) of Canada geese nests along the southwestern shore of James Bay in Ontario and on Akimiski Island in James Bay, a portion of the Northwest Territories. Spring surveys on the breeding grounds indicate the population has fluctuated at a relatively low level, ranging from 77,345 in 1993 to 136,623 in 1999. No trend in population size is evident. On Akimiski Island, evidence from band recoveries suggests that mortality of young prior to the onset of the sport-hunting season has been high. There is also some suggestion that nesting habitats are being negatively impacted by rapidly expanding populations of staging snow geese. The Service and the Mississippi and Atlantic Flyway Councils remain concerned about the Southern James Bay population, and efforts to limit the harvest of this population will continue until a better understanding of the factors affecting population growth is obtained and population recovery is well under way.

In Alaska, the Dusky Canada goose population continues to decline as a result of habitat and predation changes occurring since the earthquake in the Copper River Delta in 1964. The low status of this population, along with the Cackling Canada Goose, the threatened Aleutian Canada Goose, and the Vancouver Canada Goose populations, together with increasing resident Canada goose populations, has complicated management of Canada geese in the Pacific Northwest. The Service and State wildlife management agencies have fashioned hunting seasons to minimize adverse impacts on those migrant populations with poor population status. Resident Canada goose problems, especially agricultural impacts, continue to increase. The Service supports the use of recreational hunting opportunity to limit depredation problems to the extent possible. Investigation of possible further uses of hunting to limit problems are continuing.

The numbers of "white geese", which include greater and lesser snow geese, and the Ross' goose, in the eastern and central arctic and subarctic have been increasing so rapidly that the geese are causing overgrazing problems in their nesting colonies. Service efforts to increase white-goose harvest by liberalizing seasons have not been very successful because of the restricted distributions and the gregarious nature of these birds. Adverse events, such as reproductive failures or disease outbreaks, are possible in the future.

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Last updated: April 11, 2012