|The Mountain-Prairie Region|
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228
February 12, 1999
Chris Tollefson 202-208-5634
SERVICE TAKES ACTION TO PROTECT IMPERILED ARCTIC BREEDING GROUNDS
On February 16, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will implement two rules that begin a historic multi-national effort to save fragile arctic habitats from irreversible damage caused by exploding light goose populations.
After extensive consultation with the Canadian government and a rulemaking process that generated hundreds of public comments, the Service will publish two final rules in the February 16 Federal Register that will allow 24 Midwestern and southern states to take conservation measures aimed at reducing the population of mid-continent light geese.
The rules will give these states the flexibility to allow the use of normally prohibited electronic goose calls and unplugged shotguns during the remaining weeks of their light goose seasons this year, provided that other waterfowl and crane seasons have been closed. States have also been given the authority to implement a conservation order under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that would allow hunters to take light geese outside of traditional migratory bird hunting season frameworks. Both rules will give states a better opportunity to increase their light goose harvests.
The Service's action will begin to address an ecological crisis caused by an explosion in mid-continent populations of lesser snow geese and Ross' geese, collectively known as "light" geese, from an estimated 800,000 geese in the 1960s to more than 3 million today. Service biologists consider this to be a conservative estimate, and the actual population may be as high as 5 million birds. This is far more geese than the fragile arctic tundra with its short growing season can support.
"For years, the United States has inadvertently contributed to the growth of this problem through changes in agricultural and wetland management. Now we can begin to say we're part of the solution," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "If we do not take action, we risk not only the health of the arctic breeding grounds but also the future of many of America's migratory bird populations."
Increasing agricultural and refuge development along waterfowl flyways through the Midwest and South have provided light geese with ample forage during their yearly migrations. As a result, adult mortality rates for light geese have fallen steadily over the past three decades, triggering explosive population growth.
Light geese feed by pulling up and eating the roots of plants, a natural practice known as "grubbing." At healthy population levels, grubbing actually helps stimulate plant growth in salt marshes. But competition for food has pushed geese to over-graze these areas, denuding large swaths of vital summer plant growth. Scientists believe that this habitat degradation, which takes years to recover in the short arctic growing season and which, in many areas, may be permanent, has contributed to declining populations of more than 30 other migratory bird species that share the breeding grounds.
In 1996, biologists surveying the 1,200-mile stretch of coastline along west Hudson Bay and James Bay where the birds nest estimated that 35 percent of the original habitat was destroyed, another 30 percent severely damaged, and the remaining 35 percent overgrazed. The breeding grounds around Canada's Hudson Bay support dozens of migratory bird species that winter in the United States or migrate through it on the way to South America.
Many bird species that nest in the same areas as the geese show signs of decline or have otherwise been affected, including semi-palmated sandpipers, red-necked phalaropes, dowitchers, Hudsonian godwits, whimbrels, stilt sandpipers, yellow rails, American wigeons, northern shovelers, oldsquaws, red-breasted mergansers, parasitic jaegers, and Lapland longspurs, among others. In addition, the southern James Bay population of Canada geese is declining, presumably because of habitat degradation caused by light geese.
"We must now face the challenge of managing overabundant wildlife that threatens fragile habitats and species," said Frank Gill, the National Audubon Society's senior vice president for science. "Simply letting 'nature take its course' is no longer valid in balancing globally important ecosystems altered by man."
The Canadian Wildlife Service is currently conducting its own regulatory impact analysis statement on the overabundant light goose problem. The agency has also proposed regulatory changes for the 1999/2000 hunting season for certain provinces that include a number of the same measures that will be taken in the United States.
"The scientific evidence of a growing environmental problem on the arctic breeding grounds is indisputable," said Gerald McKeating, regional director of Environmental Conservation Branch, Environment Canada, Prairie and Northern Region. "The steps taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address this problem have been developed in close partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Service and continue to have our strong support."
Clark stressed that the new rules are a crucial initial step in trying to reduce the light goose population. The Service is also changing the way it manages national wildlife refuges in the mid-continent region to make them less attractive to snow geese.
She also announced that the Service will seek input from its partners and other interested organizations and individuals to begin to determine the scope and participants for a long-term study of other potential control measures.
"We need to act immediately to stop and reverse the insidious habitat destruction currently taking place in the arctic. But by doing so, we are not ruling out any other solutions that could help solve this problem and ensure healthy population levels for the future," said Clark.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Overabundant Snow Geese
Questions and Answers
The following document is an attempt to answer some of the questions that have been asked by stakeholders and by the public concerning the issue of overabundant snow geese. The responses are intended to help Service personnel and the public understand the issue and how the Service is addressing it. The responses were prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
What's in a name?
There are several distinct populations of snow geese in North America. The overabundant geese referred to in this document include lesser snow geese and Ross' geese that nest in the eastern and central Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada and migrate through the central portion of the United States (Central and Mississippi flyways).
Ross' geese are commonly mistaken for lesser snow geese due to their similar appearance. However, Ross' geese are smaller and have a shorter bill. Ross' geese mix with lesser snow geese on the breeding and wintering grounds and on stop-over areas along the migration corridor. Both Ross' geese and lesser snow geese nest in colonies along west Hudson Bay in areas experiencing severe habitat degradation. The numbers of Ross' geese and lesser snow geese in those areas need to be reduced to relieve the pressures on the ecosystem.
1. What is the problem with snow geese?
Scientists and managers from across North America agree that snow geese that nest in the central and eastern Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada have become so numerous that their Arctic and sub-Arctic nesting habitats cannot support them. In other words, they are literally eating themselves out of house and home.
Currently (winter 1999), the breeding population of snow geese exceeds 5 million birds, which is an increase of more than 300 percent since the mid-1970s. The population has increased more than 5 percent per year for the past 10 years. In addition, non-breeding geese (juveniles or adults that fail to nest successfully) are not included in this estimate, so the total number of geese is even higher. Snow goose population indices are higher than they have been since population records have been kept and evidence suggests that large breeding populations are spreading to previously untouched sections of the Hudson Bay coastline.
Even anecdotal historical records do not indicate that the population has ever been higher. The unprecedented numbers are not only a problem for the snow geese themselves but also for other wildlife and plants that share their habitats.
At these high population levels, parts of the fragile tundra habitats where snow geese traditionally nest are being seriously degraded and/or destroyed. In addition, complaints about geese damaging agricultural crops are on the rise in states and provinces that lie between the nesting grounds and the wintering grounds.
2. How do snow geese cause damage?
Lesser snow geese and Ross' geese are colonial birds: they do everything in large groups. When groups arrive in an area to feed, they remove an immense amount of plant material simply because of their large numbers. On the breeding grounds, lesser snow geese use a feeding behavior called "grubbing," in which they probe their bills below the ground surface and actually turn the soil over in search of high-energy roots and tubers. They denude feeding areas of all edible plant material they can find.
Plants grow slowly in the cold sub-Arctic and Arctic nesting areas, and large numbers of geese remove more plant material than can be regrown or regenerated before the following nesting season. When this happens year after year, the plant communities in such areas are unable to recover and may be totally destroyed.
Without plants, salts in the subsoil layers begin to accumulate at the ground surface, creating a saline environment where regrowth of desirable plants is virtually impossible. In addition, without root systems to hold it in place, the thin layer of topsoil is then easily eroded away by wind and other climatic conditions.
On the wintering grounds, snow geese are causing damage to crops in farm fields. The number of depredation complaints has risen steadily in the past few years, and some farmers are even hiring people to chase geese out of their fields.
3. How are the geese affected by the destruction?
Snow geese in the mid-continent region are showing signs of overpopulation through lower-than-normal body size in both juveniles and adults. There also has been an increase in parasites and a decrease in gosling survival. Some areas along west Hudson Bay no longer provide suitable habitats for feeding, nesting, or brood rearing. Over time, scientists expect the populations to decline to very low levels after what remains of the good habitat is destroyed.
4. Are snow geese the only wildlife affected?
There are indications that snow goose overabundance is already impacting other sub-Arctic and Arctic wildlife. Initial studies suggest that some species of nesting birds in the areas where severe damage has occurred have experienced direct loss of nesting habitat, and the drastic changes in the plant communities have likely caused significant changes in the food base as well. There are indications that a number of bird species that nest in the same areas as the snow geese are declining, including the semi-palmated sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, dowitchers, Hudsonian godwit, whimbrel, stilt sandpiper, yellow rail, American wigeon, northern shoveler, oldsquaw, red-breasted merganser, parasitic jaeger, and Lapland longspur, among others. The James Bay population of Canada geese is declining presumably because of habitat degradation caused by snow geese.
In addition to problems on the sub-Arctic and Arctic nesting grounds, high numbers of snow geese could pose a health threat to other birds as they migrate. Specifically, snow geese are carriers of avian cholera, although most of the time it does them no harm on a population level. However, under certain circumstances when populations are under stress, the disease erupts. Because snow geese often congregate with other waterfowl populations along the migration corridor, an outbreak of avian cholera could spread far beyond the snow goose populations affecting populations of other waterfowl, wading birds, and songbirds as well.
5. Where is the ecological damage being done?
Traditionally, snow geese have nested along the coastal lowland areas along west Hudson Bay and other northern regions in Canada. Ecological damage associated with overabundant snow geese has been extensively studied and documented along west Hudson Bay. However, there is evidence of habitat damage in some of the northerly breeding colonies as well. As the populations along west Hudson Bay have increased, geese have expanded their nesting range inland and along the coastline, and now the belt of damaged habitat is widening. In addition, many geese that nest in the salt marshes now lead their goslings farther inland on foot in search of food, compounding the problems there.
In 1996, along a roughly-1,200-mile stretch of coastline along west Hudson Bay and James Bay, scientists estimated that 35 percent of the original habitat had been destroyed, 30 percent had been severely damaged, and 35 percent overgrazed. The situation is particularly serious in many of the sub-Arctic nesting and staging areas. Thousands of geese nest at places like La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, but thousands more also use it as a staging area-a place to rest and feed while they wait for the ice to melt in their nesting habitat to the north. Thus, habitats in such areas receive a double dose of hungry geese before nesting has even begun in the northern colonies (actually, scientists estimate that as much as 70 percent of the damage is done by migrants on their way to northern colonies).
6. Is climatic change responsible for declining breeding habitat?
It's true that the arctic breeding grounds are slowly changing due to a process known as isostatic uplift. As glaciers have continued to recede from the last ice age, the land mass is rising slightly. As a result, wetland habitats and vegetation will eventually give way to plants that can survive in a drier environment. But isostatic uplift occurs almost imperceptibly over centuries while the destruction of wetland breeding habitat from snow geese has happened in a matter of years.
The inadequacy of isostatic uplift as an explanation for the habitat degradation has been clearly demonstrated by the construction of enclosures that prevent geese from feeding on selected plots. Both the enclosures and adjacent areas are experiencing isostatic uplift at the same rate, but the rate of species turnover in the two areas is markedly different. Vegetation has been almost completely destroyedin areas around the enclosures where geese were allowed to grub. Inside the enclosures, however, scientists have documented healthy plant growth with no evidence of the kind of plant succession that would be expected if isostatic uplift were responsible for the decline of wetland habitat.
7. Why are snow geese so abundant?
There are many reasons why snow goose populations have expanded so dramatically. Scientists believe there are five primary factors that together have led to the unprecedented populations. There may also be more factors that scientists do not yet understand.
a. An increase in food available to the birds as they migrate and as they spend the winter allows higher survival and reproduction. Historically, snow geese spent the winter in wetland areas on or immediately adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. As humans occupied this region, many coastal wetlands were drained and developed and the surrounding countryside was put into agricultural production. Because of these changes, geese began spending the winter farther and farther inland. The change actually suited them quite well because in the farm fields they found a virtually unlimited supply of nutritious food. Furthermore, waste grain in farm fields up and down the flyway keeps them well fed as they migrate. Good nutrition allows more geese to survive migration, more to survive the winter, and more to return to the northern breeding grounds to begin the cycle again. Not only do more return, they're in good physical condition when they arrive.
b. An extensive network of state, provincial, Federal, and private wildlife refuges has been established for the primary purpose of conserving migratory waterfowl populations. Refuges throughout the flyway and along the Gulf Coast provide sanctuaries for snow geese and other waterfowl as they migrate and spend the winter. Snow geese are quick to learn that they will be undisturbed by hunters on refuges and unaccessible private lands.
c. The harvest rate for snow geese is declining. They tend to be difficult to hunt, which leads many hunters to pursue other types of waterfowl instead.
d. Snow geese also got a little "help" from the climate. A warming trend in the nesting area during the late 1960s and 1970s allowed higher-than-normal reproduction.
e. Snow goose populations are increasing because individuals are living longer than ever before. The average adult lives 8 years and some may live to be 20. The average female will lay four eggs each year, meaning that if a female begins breeding at age 3, she could produce 24 goslings in an "average" life span, maybe twice that many if she lives a longer-than-average life.
8. Why don't predators keep snow goose populations from growing?
There are only a few predators that kill and eat snow geese. On the sub-Arctic and Arctic breeding grounds, they include Arctic foxes, wolves, and polar bears, although wolves are not very numerous and bears prefer to eat seals. Eggs and goslings are eaten by parasitic jaegers, herring gulls, and ravens. Predators that eat snow geese on the breeding grounds do not migrate, and aside from humans, there are few predators that are able to capture and kill geese along their migration routes or on their wintering grounds. Coyotes and red foxes do take some.
9. Why not just let nature take its course?
This is an option that should be and has been considered. Arguments in favor of "letting nature take its course" rest on standard density dependence theory--the concept that at some point the goose population will grow to the point that it overwhelms the ability of the breeding habitat to support it. As the theory goes, the resulting natural crash in population from starvation will bring goose numbers back down to levels that will allow the habitat, and the geese themselves, to recover. While this boom-and-bust cycle accurately describes many natural population dynamics, it fails to account for two significant differences when applied to snow geese.
First, snow geese are highly mobile and can escape density dependence by moving on to other areas at most stages of the breeding period. In fact, evidence collected from 1985 to the present clearly shows that snow geese have been dispersing in vast numbers from the deteriorating habitat at La Perouse Bay to the east and south down the coast. Survival rates for geese that have adapted to new areas is significantly higher than for the remaining colony at La Perouse Bay, but there are now signs that the habitat in these new areas is beginning to degrade significantly. In effect, the geese invade previously undisturbed areas, destroy habitat to the point that they can no longer survive, and then disperse again. This pattern widens the scale of destruction and invalidates the standard density dependence model.
Standard density dependence theory also assumes that the habitat can recover in a relatively short period of time, restarting the population cycle after a crash. But the short growing season and fragile condition of the arctic habitat means that much of this habitat could be lost forever if wildlife managers wait for a large-scale population correction.
Snow geese are causing ecological damage that extends far beyond just their own populations. The plant and animal communities that define the tundra habitat where snow geese nest are being destroyed and changed. Scientists believe that the new mix of plants and animals that will be able to live in these new conditions will be much less diverse than what was there before. Even on the areas that are not yet totally destroyed, habitat recovery will take decades or centuries, if it recovers at all, in the fragile Arctic ecosystem.
In addition, nature's mechanisms for curbing populations that are out of control could include the starvation of millions of goslings and the outbreak of disease (e.g., avian cholera), which could impact populations of many other bird species in addition to snow geese.
10. Who is responsible for solving the problem?
Federal and state/provincial natural resources management agencies are required by law to manage the health and well-being of wildlife populations within their respective jurisdictions. Because geese are migratory birds that cross international boundaries, cooperation is required among the Federal, state, and provincial resource management agencies of the United States, Canada, and Mexico.Aside from soliciting comments from citizens and interested organizations, the Service has also been working with Canadian officials to develop a conservation strategy.
The final rule is now an established Federal regulation but state wildlife commissions will have the ultimate discretion to implement any and all parts of that regulation in the United States.
11. Why hasn't something been done before now to address the problem?
Efforts have been made to address the problem. The first liberalization of snow goose hunting regulations in the Central Flyway occurred in 1980. The United States, Canada, and Mexico have increased snow goose hunting seasons to 107 days-the maximum allowed by the Migratory Bird Treaty. Bag limits (number of geese a hunter can take in a single day of hunting) have been increased to levels beyond those allowed for any other waterfowl species and possession limits (number of geese a hunter may have in his/her possession) are unlimited. Due in part to these measures, more snow geese were harvested in the 1997 hunting season than ever before. Unfortunately, while these measures have increased harvest, they have not been effective at reducing snow goose populations, and so it is necessary for management agencies to attempt extraordinary measures if the population is to be reduced quickly.
12. What is being done now to address the problem?
After an exhaustive study of arctic snow goose populations completed in 1997 by the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group, and in the wake of dozens of scientific papers describing the problem, the Service proposed two rules in 1998 that are designed to reduce mid-continent light goose populations. The Service solicited public comment on those proposed rules from November 9, 1998, to January 15, 1999, and has published final rules that would permit 24 states to take the following actions:
a. Allow the use of "unplugged" shotguns (increasing the limit on the number of shotshells that can be legally placed in the firearm's magazine) during the remaining days of regular snow goose seasons after all other waterfowl and crane seasons, excluding falconry, have closed.
b. Allow the use of electronic calls during the remaining days of regular snow goose seasons after all other waterfowl and crane seasons, excluding falconry, have closed
c. Authorize a conservation order that could take place inside or outside of the regular migratory bird season hunting frameworks. Therefore, conservation actions could take place between March 11 and August 31. The Migratory Bird Treaty prohibits the setting of hunting seasons for migratory birds during this period. However, the Treaty does allow management actions during this period to protect migratory bird habitats or populations. Among other management actions, hunting may be used as a tool during this period to decrease numbers of snow geese. States can also continue or commence the use of unplugged shotguns and electronic calls during the conservation action.
In Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service is currently conducting a regulatory impact analysis statement on the overabundant snow goose problem. The CWS has also proposed regulatory changes for the 1999/2000 hunting season for certain provinces that include:
a. Authorizing conservation actions between March 11 and August 31.
b. Allowing the use of electronic calls during snow-goose-only hunting periods.
c. Increasing subsistence harvest of snow geese and their eggs by aboriginal people.
d. Allowing Sunday hunting for snow geese in jurisdictions where it is currently prohibited.
e. Increasing daily bag limits.
13. If goose harvest is allowed after the traditional March 10 Treaty deadline (see answer to Question 12 above), what will be different about the hunting up to and including March 10 versus the hunting on March 11 and after?
Any hunting allowed after March 10 will NOT be part of a "regular" migratory bird hunting season and may be terminated at any time. Conservation actions that use hunters to control the bird population after March 10 will simply be one of several tools used to achieve that population management goal. Any state-sanctioned conservation actions involving hunting after March 10 will be closely regulated and regulations applying to this time will be strictly enforced. Specific Federal regulations concerning conservation actions after March 10 are included in the final rule published in the Federal Register.
State wildlife agencies will decide when and if to implement the conservation action, and will set its dates and procedures for registering hunters. Hunters should check with their state's wildlife management agency to find out whether electronic calls or unplugged shotguns can be used, and for the dates and terms of any conservation action prior to and beyond March 10. Individual participating states may impose regulations in addition to the Federal regulations, and states may establish specific licensing requirements.
Although hunting after March 10 will not be part of a regular migratory bird hunting season, hunters who hunt snow geese after March 10 will still be expected to follow the same norms of ethical behavior they do when hunting during regular migratory bird hunting seasons.
14. What changes have been made to the final rules from the original proposal?
The final rules contain two significant changes to the Service's original proposed rules. After a request from the Central and Pacific flyway councils and from several states, the rules were broadened to allow six additional states to participate in the conservation action. The states of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio,Tennessee and Wisconsin were added to the rule, resulting in the inclusion of every state in the Central and Mississippi flyways. While the additional states don't usually harvest many light geese, they can contribute to the solution.
The six states join the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, all of which are eligible to implement any or all of the final rules.
In order to avoid potential conflicts with a few migratory non-game bird seasons that overlap with the end of snow goose seasons in several states, the Service also clarified the final rule to specify that states may permit the use of unplugged shotguns and electronic calls for the remaining days of regular snow goose seasons after all other waterfowl and crane seasons, excluding falconry seasons, have closed. The new language will permit the use of these measures concurrent with other migratory bird seasons, such as those for crow and snipe. For obvious reasons, the restrictions do not apply to hunting using falcons.
15. Does it make sense to "kill animals in order to save them"?
At first glance, it may seem like a contradiction, but it's really a case of placing the health of snow goose populations (and other animal populations and important habitats) above that of individual animals. Reducing the number of individual snow geese now will keep the overall populations (and other animal populations that live in these habitats) healthy over the long term.
Based on the best scientific information available today, there are two basic choices:
1) reduce the adult snow goose populations over the next few years to levels that are sustainable for the long term; or
2) stand by while millions of snow goose goslings and adults die from starvation and disease and lose the habitat and the diverse forms of other wildlife that live in those habitats as well.
16. Why is hunting being used to address the problem?
From a biological perspective, the key to reducing the population of snow geese is to reduce the survival rate of adult birds. Hunters provide a free, willing, and highly motivated labor force that agencies can use to help solve the problem. In fact, through license fees and taxes they pay on arms and ammunition, hunters will actually pay to help solve the problem. Without hunters, resource management agencies will have to spend huge amounts of money to control the populations. Hunters in North America have a long tradition of caring about the conservation of natural resources, and have funded the bulk of wildlife management work.
Hunters and aboriginal people will use the snow geese for food, making full use of this valuable resource. This prevents the geese from being "wasted," as would be the case if some direct population control measures (such as poisoning) were used.
17. Why not use non-lethal techniques to solve the problem?
Agencies have looked closely at the non-lethal options available and have found them insufficient for several reasons. First, the impacted area is huge-the 1,200 miles of affected west Hudson Bay Coastline alone is about the length of the California and Texas coastlines combined. In addition, the affected area is remote, difficult to access, subject to inclement weather, and shared by polar bears. Traditional non-lethal techniques such as harassment and disturbance would require repeated and nearly continual application to keep geese out of target areas. Getting people, dogs, and machinery into these locations to create such disturbances would be difficult, expensive, and dangerous.
Use of more mobile disturbance techniques such as aircraft is cost-prohibitive on the large scale of landscape that needs protection. In addition, once geese have established nests, they are relatively unaffected by aircraft disturbance. A vast fleet of aircraft, pilots, and support equipment would be needed to protect a huge area over the narrow window of time when geese are trying to establish nests. Even if such an effort were successfully completed, the longevity of the birds would require this type of effort to be repeated successfully for nearly a decade before the size of the existing population would be affected. Female geese only have to raise two broods in their lifetimes in order for the overall population to continue to grow.
These same logistical factors make "egging"-the large-scale destruction of snow goose nests and eggs-unfeasible as a stand-alone solution to the problem. Conservative cost estimates for destroying the nests and eggs in a single nesting colony run into the millions of dollars and egging does nothing to impact the existing populationswhich are too large. Adult birds would continue to destroy habitat for years before egging showed any impact on overall population size. However, egging shows some promise if used in combination with other techniques that reduce adult survival in the short term.
Finally, non-lethal techniques alone won't solve the problem, they will just move it somewhere else. If snow geese could be successfully frightened away from one damaged area, they would simply go damage another. Snow geese nest in tundra habitat that doesn't grow very fast. Only a limited amount of this habitat exists, and right now there are too many geese for it to support.
In the end, the number of snow geese will be reduced, it's just a question of how it will happen. If people dont take immediate action to reduce their numbers, the geese will destroy the remaining habitat and the population will probably crash, or at least be greatly reduced. If the nature of the habitat is altered by this destruction-as scientists suggest it may be-snow geese will no longer be able to nest in this region. And even if habitat restoration is possible, it will take decades, perhaps even centuries, to occur.
18. Why not test non-lethal methods on a small scale to see how effective they may be?
Nearly everyone involved in this issue agrees that multiple alternatives should be tested simultaneously as time and budget allow. However, most also agree that non-lethal methods hold little promise for success and agencies cannot afford to wait for the results of these tests (and thus let habitat destruction continue) before taking action.
19. Why not use direct control measures targeted to specific areas of damaged habitat?
There is no evidence that even local damage control measures would be successful. Concerns include:
a. The target areas are huge, widespread, and remote. Most animal damage control measures (harassment, repellents, poisoning, etc.) are labor-intensive and would be extremely difficult and expensive to implement. Most scientists agree they would be ineffective.
b. Harassment and translocation measures do not solve the problem, they only move it somewhere else. Snow geese are very mobile and are likely to return to targeted areas.
c. Some of the direct animal damage control measures (poison, etc.) would not allow the harvested birds to be used for food. All population reduction efforts currently being considered are based on efforts that allow the geese and eggs to be used.
20. Could changes in agricultural practices reduce the snow goose populations?
Snow geese are thriving in the agricultural landscape along the Gulf of Mexico and up through the Central and Mississippi flyways. There is no way to make the geese return to the salt marsh habitats where they historically spent the winter months. At the present time, it would be impractical to make changes in agricultural practices and land uses that would be fundamental enough and on a large enough scale to impact snow goose populations. The marketplace and private property rights are the forces that rightfully dictate these practices. Also, proposed changes in farming practices such as fall plowing to bury waste grain would reverse decades of efforts to inform landowners about good land stewardship (no-till farming, etc.).
21. What happens if hunting-related efforts aren't enough to reduce the populations?
In the short term, additional and more widespread ecological damage will occur as agencies try to find additional ways to reduce adult populations. Potential methods include direct controls: trap/cull, poisoning, etc. The Service recognizes that while other methods, including changes in agricultural practices, have been ruled out as impractical in the short term, extensive scientific study is needed to examine a wide range of potential long-term solutions.
To begin to address those issues, the Service will seek input from its partners and other interested organizations and individuals and begin to determine the scope and participants for a long-term study of other population control measures.
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