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Managing For Geese

PromoLargeGeeseonFieldsThe Willamette Valley Refuges provide migrating Canada geese with what they need to survive during the fall and winter and make the trek back to Alaska in the spring. To prepare for the spring flight and subsequent nesting period, geese need food, water, and sanctuary.  All of these items are provided on the Willamette Valley Refuges where thousands of geese spend the winter. 

Food

Under cooperative agreements with local farmers, fields are planted in the spring with nutritious grasses preferred by geese, such as ryegrass, fescue, corn and pasture mixes. Farmers are responsible for all maintenance and care of the crop during the growing season and in the summer they benefit from the harvest of these Refuge fields. The baled hay is generally used as feed for livestock, and once the farmers have harvested, the remaining stubs of grass are left to grow again.

In early fall these stubs start to green up as the fall rains provide necessary water to jumpstart their second growth. As the crops grow the geese are returning to the Refuge where they begin to appear in large numbers on the Refuge fields. Exhausted from their long flight south, the geese can then replenish their energy reserves on these nutritious greens.

By providing the geese with high quality food, the amount of off-Refuge crop depredation is reduced, thus benefiting not only the birds, but also the surrounding private lands.

Water

The Willamette Valley was once a vast wetland during the winter months due to flooding of the Willamette River and its tributaries. Since European settlement, dams have been built and fields have been drained and tiled for crop production. The number of wetlands and wet prairies in the Valley have dramatically declined, resulting in smaller areas suitable for the geese.

Geese need water for resting and foraging habitat. The Willamette Valley Refuges have wetlands and wet prairies that provide both food and resting areas for wintering geese. Many Refuge wetlands occur naturally, while dikes and levees impound water to create others.

Seasonally flooded wetlands require continual management to produce plants favored by wintering waterfowl. Water levels are usually “stage-flooded” in the fall and winter using water control structures that allow for variable water levels. This helps maximize the food availability for migrating waterfowl including Canada geese.

Water levels are also important in the spring to prevent the establishment of undesirable non-native plants. In the summer, most impoundments are dry--a natural cycle that native plants have adapted to.

Sanctuary

Wintering waterfowl start to arrive on the Willamette Valley Refuges in early fall and stay until early spring. During this time the Refuges close the interior sections to public use to provide undisturbed habitat for the wintering waterfowl.

By resting in undisturbed areas on the refuges, wintering geese replenish their energy reserves required for migrating and nesting. The birds are able to browse Refuge fields, and forage and rest in the wetlands without being disturbed. This undisturbed sanctuary also makes the Refuge preferable to the geese than surrounding private lands, which serves to further prevent unwanted crop depredation.

Page Photo Credits — Canada Geese Browsing Refuge Fields, George Gentry/USFWS
Last Updated: Jan 09, 2014
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