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Aleutian Cackling Geese

Branta hutchinsii leucopareia
ACG Peters 512
The population of these small (4-6 pounds) geese has made one of the most astounding recoveries in the history of wildlife management.  The population has soared from <800 individual birds in 1974 to >120,000 today.  Aleutian Cackling geese were formerly known as Aleutian Canada geese until taxonomists renamed and “regrouped” them in 2004.
 
Large numbers (>30,000) of Aleutian cackling geese roost and forage on Refuge pastures and over 60,000 can be found in the Humboldt Bay area at their peak in the spring.  This species was one of the first animals designated as endangered in 1967, under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.  The primary reason for their decline was the introduction of non-native arctic foxes to their Aleutian Island breeding grounds for the purpose of developing a fur industry.  Over time, conservation initiatives from the Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Program were instituted. These included removal of foxes from nesting islands, closing of Canada/cackling goose wintering and migration areas to hunting, translocation of wild geese caught in the Aleutians to other islands where foxes had been removed, and habitat conservation.  As a result of such management actions, the Aleutian goose population began a steady recovery and the subspecies was reclassified as threatened on December 12, 1990. The goose was removed from the list of ESA-listed threatened and endangered species on March 20, 2001. 
 
Aleutian geese typically arrive in California in mid-October each year. The majority of the population currently bypasses the north coast and migrates to their primary wintering grounds in the northern San Joaquin Valley and delta of central California. However, since 2002, there has been a relatively small number (<5,000) of geese that spend fall and winter in the Humboldt Bay area. In early January, the geese wintering in the Central Valley begin moving north, and by mid-February most of the Aleutian goose population is located in northwestern California until they depart for the Aleutian Islands in mid-April.
 
As the goose population has grown so has their impact on grasslands in Del Norte and Humboldt Counties (as well as up the Oregon coast). Until 2001, the geese primarily used pastures in Del Norte County during late winter and spring, while spending the nights roosting on Castle Rock NWR located offshore of Crescent City.  However, as a result of hazing in Del Norte County and continued population growth, goose use shifted to Humboldt County. From 2002 to present Humboldt County now receives the majority of Aleutian goose use on the northwest coast from January through April. A working group of landowners, biologists, and others have been meeting since 2002 in efforts to manage this sometimes contentious situation. Stakeholders continue to work together to develop innovative ways to deal with depredation issues, while still providing the feeding areas needed by geese to attain nutrient reserves necessary to successfully migrate and reproduce.  Since 2001 Aleutians have been legal to hunt, and currently up to 6 birds can be harvested per day during the goose season. Beginning in spring 2007, CDFG allowed a late season (~2-3 weeks in late February and early March) on private lands only with the intent to “push” geese off private and onto public lands.
 

Facts About Aleutian Cackling Geese

Once thought to be extinct, this small-bodied migratory goose has made a remarkable comeback, and their population is now estimated at over 120,000 birds.
Page Photo Credits — © Ron  LeValley
Last Updated: Mar 25, 2013
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