[Federal Register: April 9, 1998 (Volume 63, Number 68)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 17350-17352]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Request for 
Information on the Aleutian Canada Goose

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of status review.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Alaska Region, 
is reviewing the status of the Aleutian Canada goose (Branta canadensis 
leucopareia) in Alaska and in the western coastal States of Washington, 
Oregon and California. The population of Aleutian Canada goose declined 
precipitously in the early to mid 1900s primarily as the result of the 
introduction of Arctic (Alopex lagopus) and red (Vulpes vulpes) foxes 
to its nesting islands. The Aleutian Canada goose was listed as 
endangered in 1967. A formal recovery program began in 1974, and by 
1990 the Aleutian Canada goose had recovered sufficiently to be 
reclassified as threatened. Censuses on the breeding and wintering 
grounds indicate further, substantial increases in population, and 
suggest that the Aleutian Canada goose population may have recovered. 
The Service requests data and information on the status of this 

DATES: To ensure their consideration, comments from all interested 
parties should be received by May 11, 1998.

ADDRESSES: Comments and information concerning this notice should be 
sent to Anthony DeGange, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1011 E. Tudor 
Rd., Anchorage, AK 99503. Comments and information received will be 
available for public inspection by appointment during normal business 
hours at the above address.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Anthony DeGange at the above address 
or Teresa Woods at the above address.



    The Aleutian Canada goose is a small island-nesting subspecies of 
Canada goose. Morphologically it resembles other small Canada goose 
subspecies, but nearly all Aleutians surviving past their first winter 
have a distinct white neck ring at the base of their black necks. The 
Aleutian Canada goose is the only subspecies of Canada goose whose 
range once included both the North American and Asian continents. It 
formerly nested in the northern Kuril and Commander Islands, in the 
Aleutian Archipelago and on islands south of the Alaska Peninsula east 
to near Kodiak Island. The species formerly wintered in Japan, and from 
British Columbia south to Mexico. The decline of the Aleutian Canada 
goose has been attributed to the introduction of Arctic foxes, and to a 
lesser extent red foxes, to its breeding islands for the purpose of 
developing a fur industry. Hunting and loss of habitat on its wintering 
range also contributed to the subspecies' decline. At the time of its 
listing as endangered, its known breeding range was limited to Buldir 
Island, a small, isolated island in the western Aleutian Islands where 
foxes were never introduced. Small breeding populations of small Canada 
geese were subsequently found on Chagulak Island in the central 
Aleutians and on Kiliktagik Island in the Semidi Islands south of the 
Alaska Peninsula. These island nesting geese are morphologically 
similar to Aleutian Canada geese and genetic studies indicate they are 
more closely related to Aleutian Canada geese than other Canada goose 
subspecies (Shields and Wilson 1987; B. Pierson, pers. comm.). The 
Service considers the Chagulak and Semidi Islands geese remnant 
populations of the previously more continuously distributed Aleutian 
Canada goose. The Aleutian Canada goose is believed to have numbered 
fewer than 800 birds in 1975.
    Most Aleutian Canada geese winter in California. They arrive on the 
wintering grounds in early to mid-October. Some geese stop in the 
Crescent City area in northwest California but most continue on to the 
vicinities of Colusa in the Sacramento Valley and Modesto in the 
northern San Joaquin Valley. By mid-December the majority of the 
population is near Modesto. Small numbers of Aleutian Canada geese also 
frequently winter near El Sobrante in north San Francisco Bay and near 
Crescent City. Most of the population stages near Crescent City on the 
northward migration although several thousand birds are now using 
pasture land in south coastal Oregon for several weeks in the spring. 
The small population of geese that breeds in the Semidi Islands winters 
exclusively in coastal Oregon near Pacific City.
    In response to reduced population levels, the Service classified 
the Aleutian Canada goose as endangered in 1967. The Service provided 
additional protection to the goose with passage of the Endangered 
Species Act of 1973. A recovery plan for the Aleutian Canada goose was 
approved in 1979 and revised in 1982 and 1991 (Byrd et al. 1991). 
Recovery activities were begun in 1974. Important features of the 

[[Page 17351]]

program in Alaska and the western U.S. included--banding of birds on 
the breeding grounds to identify important wintering and migration 
areas; closure of wintering and migration areas to hunting of Canada 
geese; acquisition, protection and management of important wintering 
and migration habitat; removal of foxes from potential nesting islands; 
propagation and release of captive Aleutian Canada geese on fox free-
nesting islands in the Aleutians; and translocation of molting family 
groups from Buldir Island to other fox-free islands in the Aleutians. 
Survival of released captive-reared birds on fox-free islands was never 
high, thus once the population on Buldir Island was large enough to 
support the translocation of wild birds, release of captive birds was 
phased out. This approach and other recovery actions have been 
    Recovery actions resulted in an increase in the population of 
Aleutian Canada geese. Rates of increase between 1975 and 1989 ranged 
from 6 to 35 percent annually, and by winter 1989/1990 the peak winter 
count reached 6,200 geese. The Service reclassified the Aleutian Canada 
goose from endangered to threatened in 1990 (55 FR 51106, December 12, 

Summary of Status

    Since the subspecies was downlisted to threatened in 1990, the 
overall population of Aleutian Canada geese has sustained a strong 
recovery. Estimates of the population of geese wintering near Modesto, 
California, based on ratios of marked to unmarked birds, were 
approximately 24,000 for the 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 winters (Drut and 
Trost 1997). The peak 1998 count of Semidi Island birds on their 
wintering grounds near Pacific City, Oregon was 115-120 (D. Pitkin, 
pers. comm.). Despite protection on both the breeding and wintering 
grounds, the Semidi Island population has sustained little or no growth 
since 1991. The reasons for this lack of growth are unclear.
    As of summer 1995, the last year for which census data were 
available from the breeding grounds, approximately 4,000 pairs of 
Aleutian Canada geese were estimated to breed in the Aleutian Islands, 
including at least 350 pairs at Agattu Island, 124 pairs at Alaid/Nizki 
Islands, 3,500 pairs at Buldir Island, 5 pairs in the Rat Islands, and 
20 pairs at Chagulak Island (Byrd 1995). Recent breeding has been 
documented at Amchitka, Amukta, and Little Kiska Islands. Although the 
current status of Aleutian Canada geese on these islands is unknown, 
reestablishment of breeding populations via translocations to Amchitka 
and Little Kiska Islands and natural recolonization of Amukta Island is 
believed to have a low probability of success. The presence of bald 
eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), a predator of geese, on islands east 
of Buldir Island is believed to be a factor that has limited the 
success of translocations to Amchitka, Little Kiska and Kiska Islands.
    The small breeding population on Chagulak Island is believed to be 
stable, but the terrain is steep and nesting habitat is limited. Foxes 
have been removed from most of the islands near Chagulak, and to 
bolster the population of geese in this portion of the Aleutians, 
translocations of geese from Buldir Island to Yunaska Island occurred 
in 1994 and 1995. Translocations also occurred in 1994 and 1995 to 
Skagul Island in the Rat Island group. At this time it is unclear if 
the translocations have resulted in establishment of breeding 
populations on these islands.
    The status of Aleutian Canada geese in the Semidi Islands is 
tenuous. Investigators studying these geese found only 14 nests on 
Kiliktagik Island and 3 nests on Anowik Island in 1995, which is 11 
nests fewer than were found on the same islands in 1992 (Beyersdorf and 
Pfaff 1995). Hatching and overall nesting success of geese in the 
Semidi Islands in 1995 was lower than their counterparts in the western 
Aleutian Islands. In addition, relatively few hatching year birds have 
been appearing on the wintering grounds each fall in coastal Oregon (D. 
Pitkin and R. Lowe pers. comm.). The reason for lower productivity of 
Aleutian Canada geese in the Semidi Islands is unknown.
    The availability of nesting habitat in the Aleutian Islands is not 
likely to limit population growth in the foreseeable future. The 
Service believes there is considerable unoccupied nesting habitat 
available for geese on some of the existing nesting islands, and there 
are at least eight other islands with suitable nesting habitat that 
have been cleared of foxes that are available for natural 
recolonization. The Service is also continuing its fox eradication 
program in the Aleutian Islands to benefit geese and other ground 
nesting birds. All of the extant nesting islands of Aleutian Canada 
geese in Alaska, as well as most of the islands within its historic 
nesting range in Alaska, are protected as part of the Alaska Maritime 
National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the availability of nesting habitat, 
rapid natural expansion to unoccupied islands is not expected to occur 
because of the presence of bald eagles and the strong tendency for 
Canada geese to return to natal areas to breed.
    On the wintering grounds in California and Oregon, Aleutian Canada 
geese depend on agricultural lands. They feed extensively in 
agricultural fields with waste beans and grain, and graze on sprouting 
grain and in pastures used by livestock (Dahl 1995). Most Aleutian 
geese use two ranches near Modesto as their primary winter range. The 
Service has purchased 2,800 acres of one ranch in fee title as part of 
the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, and is negotiating a 
long-term conservation easement on 2,000 acres of the other ranch to 
protect and manage the winter range of the Aleutian Canada goose. The 
Service is also attempting to acquire additional cropland, grassland 
and riparian acreage along the San Joaquin River, some of which could 
be used by geese in the future. The Service is actively managing its 
lands as goose foraging, loafing and roosting habitat, and assisting 
local landowners with enhancing their lands for geese by providing 
technical assistance. The intent is to provide high quality habitat for 
geese while holding them on managed lands to reduce crop depredation on 
neighboring private farms.
    The lands used by Aleutian Canada geese near Colusa, California are 
primarily privately owned farms and Reclamation District land. The 733 
acre Butte Sink National Wildlife Refuge is actively managed to attract 
geese and other waterfowl. The small wintering area at El Sobrante in 
north San Francisco Bay is owned by a public utility. In northwest 
California, Aleutian Canada geese roost on Castle Rock, an offshore 
island that is now part of the National Wildlife Refuge system, and to 
a lesser extent on Prince Island which is owned by Native Americans. As 
the Aleutian Canada goose population has increased, geese have shifted 
their feeding from State lands to managed pastures on private dairy 
farms used for livestock grazing, and are now in conflict with several 
of the local landowners. In an attempt to reduce the depredation 
problem, the State of California, in cooperation with local landowners, 
has begun to actively manage 400-500 acres of State land near Lake Earl 
by fertilizing, irrigating and grazing pasture land. Geese are being 
discouraged from using private land by hazing.
    In Oregon, the Semidi Island geese forage primarily on the pastures 
of two dairy farms near Pacific City. Both dairies are privately owned 
but were included within the boundaries of the Nestucca Bay National 
Wildlife Refuge which would facilitate their acquisition should the 
Service and the landowners

[[Page 17352]]

reach a purchase agreement in the future. The refuge has acquired 120 
acres of nearby pasture that is being used by Dusky Canada geese and 
could be used by Aleutian Canada geese in the future. The Semidi Island 
geese either roost on the ocean or on Haystack Rock which is part of 
the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Several thousand Aleutian 
Canada geese from breeding sites in the Aleutian Islands are now using 
coastal southern Oregon as a stopover for several weeks in spring. 
These birds forage on privately-owned pasture and roost on offshore 
rocks in the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
    Establishment of closed areas for hunting Canada geese has 
contributed to the recovery of the Aleutian Canada goose. Six closed 
areas currently exist--islands in Alaska west of Unimak Island, 
beginning in 1973; northwestern California, the Modesto area and the 
Colusa area, beginning in 1975; and the Pacific City area and central 
and south coastal Oregon beginning in 1982. Occasionally a few Aleutian 
Canada geese using habitats outside of the closed hunting areas are 
killed by hunters.
    Because many waterfowl species in the Pacific Flyway are now highly 
concentrated on the greatly reduced wetland acres of their wintering 
grounds, they are vulnerable to disease. Avian cholera has been 
identified as the cause of death for many of the Aleutian Canada geese 
found dead on the wintering grounds near Modesto. This disease is a 
chronic low-level problem on the wintering grounds but is being managed 
successfully. The Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Team has prepared and 
revised a disease and contamination hazard contingency plan that 
provides information and direction to reduce the incidence and severity 
of both disease and contamination hazards (Byrd et al. 1996). In 
addition, the Service has an active program of collecting and disposing 
of dead and diseased waterfowl to reduce exposure of healthy geese.
    In 1992, the Service sent 19 captive Aleutian Canada geese to 
Russia to start a captive flock in Kamchatka. This flock is being used 
as part of a joint Russian/Japanese project to reestablish Aleutian 
Canada geese on former nesting islands in the Commander and Kuril 
islands and on their former wintering grounds in northern Japan. In 
August 1997, 33 Aleutian Canada geese were released on Ekarma Island in 
the northern Kuril Islands. In winter 1997/1998 three of the marked 
birds released on Ekarma Island were observed on the wintering grounds 
in Japan (F. Lee, pers. comm.). In addition, up to 13 additional 
unmarked Aleutian Canada geese have been observed this winter in Japan 
(F. Lee, pers. comm.).
    The Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Plan (Byrd et al. 1991) 
identified the following recovery criteria for the Aleutian Canada 
goose--(1) an overall population greater than 7,500; (2) 50 pairs of 
geese nesting in each of 3 remnant breeding areas--western Aleutians 
(excluding Buldir Island), central Aleutians, and Semidi Islands; and, 
(3) conservation and management of 25,000-35,000 acres of migration and 
wintering habitat. The recovery plan states that failure to achieve a 
specific acreage target of migration and wintering habitat would not 
preclude delisting of the Aleutian Canada goose if otherwise warranted.
    Although the breeding populations of Aleutian Canada geese in the 
central Aleutians and in the Semidi Islands have not met the second 
recovery criterion, the overall population of this subspecies is three 
times the minimum population target identified in the revised recovery 
plan as required for delisting. Sufficient migration and wintering 
habitat is now being conserved and managed to support additional 
population growth (V. Byrd, pers. comm.; D. Woolington, pers. comm.). 
On the strengths of the population recovery, recent translocations to 
the central and western Aleutians, an ongoing program to restore the 
Aleutian Canada goose to the Asian portion of its range, and 
substantial progress on conserving and managing migration and wintering 
habitat, the Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Team concluded in 1995 that 
it was no longer justified to protect the Aleutian Canada goose under 
the Endangered Species Act (Byrd 1995).

Request for Data and Comments

    The Service requests data on the status of Aleutian Canada geese 
from all interested parties and all affected local, State, and Federal 
governments. The Service needs the most recent data from the breeding 
grounds in Alaska and the wintering grounds and migration areas in 
California, Oregon and Washington. In particular the Service needs the 
most recent data on population status and trend and any other 
information that may bear on the recovery of this subspecies. The 
Service will use the best available scientific information to evaluate 
the status of this population, and if deemed appropriate, to prepare a 
proposal to remove this subspecies from the list of threatened and 
endangered wildlife. If this proposal is deemed warranted, it will be 
published in the Federal Register, including a review of materials used 
in its preparation.

References Cited

Beyersdorf, G.S., and L. Pfaff. 1995. Aleutian Canada geese in the 
Semidi Islands--an assessment of limiting factors. U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, Homer, 
AK. Unpubl. report. 24pp.
Byrd, G.V. 1995. Memorandum to Regional Director, David B. Allen 
with notes from the Aleutian Canada Goose Recovery Team meeting 
dated November 2-4, 1995.
Byrd, G.V., K. Durbin, F. Lee, T. Rothe, P. Springer, D. 
Yparraguirre, and F. Zeillermaker. 1991. Aleutian Canada Goose 
(Branta canadensis leucopareia) Recovery Plan. Second revision. U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK. 55pp.
Byrd, G.V., B. Bales, F. Lee, K. Miller, T. Rothe, P. Springer, and 
D. Yparraguirre. 1996. Aleutian Canada goose disease and 
contamination hazard contingency plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service, Anchorage, AK. 12pp.
Dahl. A.L. 1995. Diurnal habitat use by Aleutian Canada geese during 
winter in central California. Ph.D. dissertation. University of 
Washington, Seattle, WA. 125pp.
Drut, M.S., and R.E. Trost. 1997. Annual summary of goose population 
monitoring programs in the Pacific Flyway, 1996-97. U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, Migratory Bird Management Office, Portland, OR. 
Shields, G.F., and A.C. Wilson. 1987. Subspecies of the Canada goose 
(Branta canadensis) have distinct mitochondrial DNA's. Evolution 41-


    The primary author of this notice is Anthony DeGange (see ADDRESSES 

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: March 30, 1998.
David B. Allen,
Regional Director, Region 7, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 98-9282 Filed 4-8-98; 8:45 am]