Questions and Answers about the Aleutian
What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
We are celebrating the recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose February 1, 2001, with a final rule expected to be published soon removing this species from the federal list of threatened and endangered wildlife and plants.
What actions contributed to the recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose?
Recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose has been a cooperative effort among federal and state agencies and private individuals. The goose was one of the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) when the Act went into effect in 1973. Among the most successful recovery activities have been: 1) removing non-native foxes from potential nesting islands in Alaska; 2) acquiring, protecting and managing important wintering and migration habitat 3) moving wild, molting family groups of geese from Buldir Island, where most of the species remnant population was discovered, to other fox-free islands in the Aleutian Islands; and 4) protecting geese through Canada goose hunting closures in wintering and migration areas, particularly in California and Oregon.
What happened to the Aleutian Canada goose?
The Aleutian Canada goose's problems began when fur farmers and trappers released Arctic and red foxes on more than 190 islands within the goose's nesting range in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Most fox releases took place during the height of the fur industry from 1915 to 1936, but some occurred as early as 1750. The foxes nearly wiped out the Aleutian Canada goose populations because the birds had no natural defenses against land predators on the previously mammal-free islands.
The geese were not seen from 1938 until 1962, when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists discovered a small population on rugged, remote Buldir Island in the western Aleutian Islands. In 1963, the number of Aleutian Canada geese on Buldir Island was roughly estimated at 200 to 300 birds. The goose was listed as an endangered species in 1973, however the breeding grounds were so remote and difficult to reach that first accurate count didn't take place until 1975 at a spring stopover point near Crescent City, California. The count revealed only 790 individuals.
By the mid-1980s, limited numbers of breeding geese had been discovered on two other islands in the Aleutian chain. The birds began to increase after recovery actions were put into place, particularly re-establishing geese populations on islands where they formerly nested. By the winter of 1989-90, the birds reached a peak winter count of 6,300 individuals, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the goose as threatened. Since then, the species has made a spectacular comeback and it is no longer threatened with extinction. The latest counts show the population has rebounded to more than 37,000 birds.
How does the Service delist the Aleutian Canada goose?
The Service conducted a status review over a period of several months in 1999. At that time all the available information was reviewed to determine if the goose should continue to receive protection under ESA. The Service conducted the status review by soliciting comments from the public, state and federal officials and other interested parties. The Service's comprehensive Federal Register notices of review serve as notices to the public that the best available scientific and commercial data were being sought in order to make a determination on the species' status. The Service then prepared a detailed proposal to delist, which also was published in the Federal Register and again solicited comments from the public. After reviewing the comments, the Service has prepared a final rule to delist the goose and it will be published soon in the Federal Register.
What is recovery?
Recovery is the process that reverses the decline of an endangered or threatened species and restores the species to a point where its population in the wild is healthy and secure. The goal of ESA is recovery. Typically, recovery of a species is a gradual process that may take years. Once recovered, a species can be delisted. The Service, under ESA, is required to monitor the goose population for five years after it is delisted. Should the Service identify further threats to the Aleutian Canada goose's existence, or should the goose appreciably decline in the future, ESA protection could be restored.
Will hunting of Aleutian Canada geese be allowed after delisting?
Theoretically, hunting of Aleutian Canada geese could be re-opened after delisting occurs, but a decision to re-open hunting has not been made at this time. The Pacific Flyway Council has drafted a plan on how the Aleutian Canada goose will be managed after delisting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, together with the Pacific Flyway Council, will evaluate proposals to allow hunting of Aleutian Canada geese if requested by a state. The Service must follow the established regulatory process that provides for input from affected states and the public before making a decision to open a hunting season on Aleutian Canada geese.
Will the goose still be protected by other means once it is delisted?
Yes. After being removed from the federal list of endangered species, the Aleutian Canada goose will continue to be protected from various forms of "take" by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. "Take" means killing, harming or harassing a species or significantly altering or destroying its habitat.
Do Aleutian Canada geese still face problems?
Aleutian Canada geese face three problems that will require attention in the future but which do not threaten them with extinction: 1) lack of growth in the numbers of geese nesting in the Semidi Islands, 2) conservation and management of wintering and migration habitat, and 3) disease.
Despite protection on both the breeding and wintering grounds, the small group of Aleutian Canada geese nesting in the Semidi Islands has been unable to increase its population above the high point of 120 birds achieved in 1993. Poor survival rates among young birds appear to be behind this lack of growth. We will closely monitor this group of birds in the future. In addition, the no-hunting closure in north coastal Oregon to protect the geese that nest in the Semidi Islands will be maintained.
The Service, the State of California and private partners have made considerable progress in acquiring, conserving and managing lands for geese. All of the nesting islands of Aleutian Canada geese are protected as part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The Service has an extensive program working cooperatively with partners to protect and manage wintering habitat on state and private lands in California.
About 8,000 acres have been protected on migration and wintering grounds and are being managed for Aleutian Canada geese, but some key parcels still need to be secured, both in the Modesto, California, area where geese from the Aleutian Islands winter, and near Pacific City, Oregon, where the geese from the Semidi Islands spend the winter. As the Aleutian Canada goose population continues to grow, geese consuming large quantities of sprouting grains and pasture grass will continue to be a growing concern, especially in northwestern California, where nearly the entire goose population gathers in spring. The Service currently is working with private landowners and other agencies to protect and manage critical feeding areas while alleviating crop depredation.
Because many waterfowl species in the Pacific Flyway gather in huge numbers on their wintering grounds, they are vulnerable to disease. Avian cholera is a highly infectious bird disease that can cause massive waterfowl die-offs. On the wintering grounds in California, avian cholera is a chronic low-level problem for Aleutian Canada geese, but is being managed successfully because dead and dying waterfowl are picked up to reduce the risk of spreading disease to healthy geese. The Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Team has prepared a disease and contamination hazard contingency plan that outlines procedures for a coordinated effort by waterfowl managers to reduce the severity of both disease and contamination hazards. Waterfowl managers on the goose's wintering grounds must remain vigilant in order to combat this disease.
Has the United States worked with other Arctic nations to re-establish Aleutian Canada geese throughout their historic range?
Yes. In 1992, we sent 19 captive Aleutian Canada geese to Russia in order to start a captive flock in Kamchatka. This flock is being used as part of a joint Russian/Japanese/U.S. project to re-establish Aleutian Canada geese on former nesting islands in the Kuril Islands in Russia, and on their former wintering grounds in northern Japan. So far, 100 birds have been released in the Kuril Islands. Eighteen of these birds have been observed on wintering grounds in Japan. More releases are planned for the future.
Where can I learn more about the Aleutian Canada goose? Where can I learn more about endangered species?
You can find out more about the Aleutian Canada goose by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Anchorage, Alaska Field Office at (907) 271-2888 or the Pacific Regional Office in Portland, Oregon, at (503) 231-6121 for a fact sheet or visit the Pacific Region's website at www.r1.fws.gov. To learn more about endangered species in general, you can check our national web site on endangered species and their recovery, at: <http://www.fws.gov/~r9endspp/endspp.html>.