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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

April 2, 1999
Chris Tollefson 202-208-5634


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will begin work this spring, one year earlier than originally planned, on an environmental impact statement that will evaluate long-term options for managing mid-continent light goose populations. By accelerating the EIS process, the Service seeks to more fully analyze information and alternatives, broaden the already strong consensus for action, and minimize disruptions to state wildlife agency planning efforts.

In concert with the compilation of an EIS, the Service will withdraw final rules designed as a short-term measure to reverse ongoing destruction of arctic breeding habitats caused by exploding light goose populations. The withdrawal will occur after the end of the current spring migration and will not affect existing state conservation actions authorized by the rules.

In response to a legal challenge filed by the Humane Society of the United States, Judge Thomas Francis Hogan ruled in favor of the Service on March 19 and denied a request by the group for a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of the rules. He found that the Service would probably prevail on its claim that it acted within its mandate under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to take emergency measures to protect migratory bird resources.

But Judge Hogan did find cause to believe that a full environmental impact statement, rather than the more concise environmental assessment (EA) performed by the Service, is likely required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

"In respect to the government's decisionmaking process, it is clear that FWS acted in good faith. FWS' EA represents a hard look at the proposed action that comports with the spirit of NEPA, though not its letter," Judge Hogan said in his ruling.

"In his opinion, Judge Hogan acknowledged the thorough scientific analysis the Service and its partners conducted to help resolve this problem and the widespread support in the scientific and conservation community for the rules we are implementing," said Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark. "We will build on this analysis by completing the EIS that he has suggested."

The rules, which were implemented February 16, gave 24 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 were also 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 after the closure of all other waterfowl and crane seasons.

The Service's action was supported by the Canadian government and a broad spectrum of the conservation community, including the National Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy, the Ornithological Council, and Ducks Unlimited. It was taken as an immediate response to an impending ecological crisis caused by rapidly expanding mid-continent populations of lesser snow geese and Ross' geese, collectively known as "light geese."

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 during the past three decades, triggering explosive population growth.

The fragile arctic tundra, with its short growing season, cannot support populations of that size. Large areas of the breeding grounds around Hudson Bay have been denuded of all vegetation by overgrazing, a situation that scientists believe may also be contributing to the decline of dozens of other migratory bird species that share the breeding grounds and winter in the United States.

The Service had planned to commence an EIS next year, evaluating the long-term impacts of increased harvest and other potential control methods. While the EIS process is a lengthy one, the Service will complete its analysis as quickly as possible. The Service cannot assure that the EIS will be completed in time to support potential management actions in the spring of 2000.

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.

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