[Federal Register: May 13, 1999 (Volume 64, Number 92)]
[Page 26267-26270]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]

[[Page 26267]]


Part XII

Department of the Interior


Fish and Wildlife Service


Migratory Bird Hunting; Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact 
Statement on White Goose Management; Notice

[[Page 26268]]


Fish and Wildlife Service

Migratory Bird Hunting; Notice of Intent To Prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement on White Goose Management

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of intent.


SUMMARY: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service or ``we'') is 
issuing this notice to advise the public that we are initiating efforts 
to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that considers a 
range of management alternatives aimed at addressing population 
expansion of lesser snow geese, Ross' snow geese, and greater snow 
geese (white geese). This notice describes possible alternatives, 
invites public participation in the scoping process for preparing the 
EIS, and identifies the Service official to whom questions and comments 
may be directed. Potential sites of public scoping meetings in 
important white goose migration and wintering areas are yet to be 
determined. A notice of public meetings with the locations, dates, and 
times will be published in the Federal Register.

DATES: Written comments regarding EIS scoping should be submitted by 
July 12, 1999, to the address below.

ADDRESSES: Written comments should be sent to the Chief, Office of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department 
of the Interior, ms 634--ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 
20240. The public may inspect comments during normal business hours in 
room 634--Arlington Square Building, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Mr. Jonathan Andrew, Chief, Office of 
Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department 
of the Interior, (703) 358-1714.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: With regard to Mid-continent light geese, 
because of the high population levels and habitat destruction described 
below, we believe that management action is necessary. In fact, we 
promulgated regulations on February 16, 1999, (64 FR 7507; 64 FR 7517) 
that authorized additional methods of take of light geese and 
established a conservation order for the reduction of the Mid-continent 
Light Goose Population. In issuing those regulations, we indicated that 
we would initiate preparation of an EIS beginning in 2000 to consider 
the effects on the human environment of a range of long-term 
resolutions for the MCLG population problem. Those regulations were 
subsequently challenged in Federal District Court by several animal 
rights groups. Though the judge refused to preliminarily enjoin the 
program, he did indicate a likelihood that the plaintiffs might prevail 
on the EIS issue when the lawsuit proceeded. In light of our earlier 
commitment to prepare an EIS on the larger, long-term program and to 
preclude further litigation on the issue, we decided to withdraw the 
regulations and to begin preparation of the EIS now.

Mid-Continent Light Geese

    Lesser snow (Anser c. caerulescens) and Ross' (Anser rossii) geese, 
that primarily migrate through the Central and Mississippi Flyways, are 
collectively referred to as Mid-continent light geese (MCLG) because 
they breed, migrate, and winter in the ``Mid-continent'' or central 
portions of North America. They are referred to as ``light'' geese due 
to the light coloration of the white-phase plumage form, as opposed to 
``dark'' geese such as white-fronted geese or Canada geese. We include 
both plumage forms of lesser snow geese (white, or ``snow'' and dark, 
or ``blue'') under the designation light geese.
    The total MCLG population is experiencing a high population growth 
rate and has substantially increased in size within the last 30 years. 
Potential reasons for this high growth rate include decreased harvest 
rates, availability of waste grains in agricultural areas, 
establishment of refuges, and higher survival rates. The total MCLG 
population is comprised of two population segments; namely the Mid-
continent Population (MCP) and the Western Central Flyway Population 
(WCFP). We use operational surveys conducted annually on wintering 
grounds to derive a winter index to light goose populations. The winter 
index of MCP light geese has more than tripled within 30 years from an 
estimated 800,000 birds in 1969 to approximately 2.6 million birds in 
1999 and has increased an average of 5% per year for the last ten years 
(Abraham et al. 1996, USFWS 1998). The 1999 MCP winter index of 2.6 
million geese is comprised of approximately 2.4 million lesser snow 
geese and 147,000 Ross' geese. The winter index of WCFP light geese has 
quadrupled in 23 years from 52,000 in 1974 to 216,000 in 1997 (USFWS 
1997), and has increased an average of 9% per year for the last ten 
years (USFWS 1998). Counts of light geese wintering in Mexico are 
obtained every 3 years, therefore 1997 represents the last year that a 
total WCFP count was made. The 1997 WCFP winter index of 216,000 geese 
is comprised of approximately 151,000 lesser snow geese and 65,000 
Ross' geese.
    The total MCLG population (MCP and WCFP combined), based on the 
1997 and 1999 winter indices, is approximately 2.8 million geese (Table 
1). In 1991, the Central and Mississippi Flyway Councils jointly agreed 
to set lower and upper management thresholds for the MCP of snow geese 
at 1.0 million and 1.5 million, respectively, based on the winter 
index. Therefore, the current winter index of MCP lesser snow geese far 
exceeds the upper management threshold established by the Flyway 
Councils. Segments of the total MCLG population have also exceeded 
North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP) population objectives, 
which are also based on winter indices. The MCP lesser snow goose 
winter index of 2.4 million birds far exceeds the NAWMP population 
objective of 1 million birds (USDOI et al. 1998). The lesser snow goose 
portion of the WCFP light goose winter index is estimated to be 151,000 
birds, which exceeds the NAWMP population objective of 110,000 birds 
(USDOI et al. 1998). The estimate of the Ross' goose component of the 
total MCLG population winter index (WCFP and MCP combined) is 
approximately 212,000 birds. This exceeds the NAWMP Ross' goose 
population objective of 100,000 birds (USDOI et al. 1998). We compare 
current population levels to NAWMP population objectives to demonstrate 
that the total MCLG population has increased substantially over what is 
considered to be healthy population level.

                                  Table 1.--Components of the Mid-Continent Light Goose Population (MCLG) Winter Index
                                                                                                                                NAWMP goal <SUP>d</SUP>
               Species                    MCP <SUP>a</SUP>        WCFP <SUP>b</SUP>     Total MCLG         Flyway council goal <SUP>c</SUP>        --------------------------------------
                                                                                                                       MCP          WCFP      Total MCLG
Lesser snow goose....................    2,429,000      151,000    2,580,000  1.0-1.5 million....................    1,000,000      110,000    1,110,000

[[Page 26269]]

Ross' goose..........................      146,800       65,000      211,800  N/A <SUP>e</SUP>..............................          N/A          N/A      100,000
    Total............................    2,575,800      216,000    2,791,800  N/A................................          N/A          N/A   1,210,000
<SUP>a</SUP> Mid-Continent Population (1999 index).
<SUP>b</SUP> Western Central Flyway Population (1997 index).
<SUP>c</SUP> Represents lower and upper management thresholds.
<SUP>d</SUP> North American Waterfowl Management Plan goals.
<SUP>e</SUP> Not applicable; goal not developed.

    By multiplying the current MCLG December index of 2.8 million birds 
by an adjustment factor of 1.6 (Boyd et al. 1982), we derive an 
estimate of 4.5 million breeding birds in spring. This is corroborated 
by population surveys conducted on light goose breeding colonies during 
spring and summer, which suggest that the breeding population size of 
MCLG is in excess of five million birds (D. Caswell pers. comm.). The 
estimate of 4.5 million birds does not include non-breeding geese or 
geese found in unsurveyed areas. Therefore, the total MCLG population 
currently far exceeds 4.5 million birds.
    We believe that the MCLG population has exceeded the long-term 
carrying capacity of its breeding habitat and must be reduced. These 
geese have become seriously injurious to their arctic and subarctic 
habitat and habitat important to other migratory birds. We have 
described previously (February 16, 1999; 64 FR 7517) how light geese 
have impacted breeding habitats through their feeding actions, which 
triggers a series of events that leads to long-term habitat 
destruction. Batt (1997) summarized the results of numerous studies 
that have investigated the dynamics of the MCLG population and the 
impacts it is having on breeding habitats. We believe that MCLG 
population reduction measures are necessary to prevent further habitat 
destruction and to protect the remaining habitat upon which numerous 
wildlife species depend.
    Batt (1997) estimated that the MCLG population should be reduced by 
50% by 2005. That would suggest a reduction from the 1999 MCLG winter 
index of approximately 2.8 million birds to approximately 1.4 million 
birds. Central and Mississippi Flyway Council management thresholds for 
MCP lesser snow geese (not including WCFP lesser snow or Ross' geese) 
rests between 1.0 and 1.5 million birds, based on the winter index. 
Therefore, our goal to reduce the MCLG population to 1.4 million birds 
by 2005 closely parallels those established by Flyway Councils and the 
scientific community. Using previously mentioned conversion factors, a 
winter index of 1.4 million would translate to a minimum estimate of 
2.24 million breeding MCLG in spring. The estimate of 2.24 million 
birds does not include non-breeding geese or geese found in unsurveyed 
areas. Therefore, the total MCLG spring population would be much 
higher. We plan to carefully analyze and assess the MCLG reduction on 
an annual basis, using the winter index and other surveys, to ensure 
that the populations are not over-harvested.

Greater Snow Geese

    Greater snow geese (Anser c. atlanticus) breed in the eastern 
Arctic of Canada and Greenland and migrate southward through Quebec, 
New York, and New England to their wintering grounds in the mid-
Atlantic U.S. The greater snow goose population has expanded from less 
than 50,000 birds in the late 1960s to approximately 700,000 today. 
These estimates are based on operational spring surveys conducted on 
staging areas in the St. Lawrence Valley. With a growth rate of about 
9% per year, the population is expected to reach 1,000,000 by 2002 and 
2,000,000 by 2010 (Batt 1998).
    Although the greater snow goose population has experienced a high 
growth rate, studies in the Arctic have not documented extensive damage 
to breeding habitats as of yet. It is estimated that the population is 
only about one-half of the carrying capacity of the site of the largest 
breeding colony on Bylot Island. However, high populations of greater 
snow geese are negatively impacting natural marshes in the St. Lawrence 
estuary and some coastal marshes of the Mid-Atlantic U.S (Batt 1998). 
The Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group recommended that the population 
be stabilized by the year 2002 at between 800,000 to 1,000,000 birds 
(Batt 1998). This strategy is intended to prevent the destruction of 
arctic habitat that is likely to occur if the population exceeds the 
carrying-capacity of breeding areas.

Past Management Actions

    We have attempted to curb the growth of white goose populations by 
increasing bag and possession limits and extending the open hunting 
season length for white geese to 107 days, the maximum allowed by the 
Migratory Bird Treaty between the U.S. and Canada. However, due to the 
rapid rise in white goose numbers and low hunter success rates, the 
harvest rate (the percentage of the population that is harvested) has 
declined. The decline in harvest rate indicates that current harvest 
regulations are not sufficient to stabilize or reduce population growth 
    In cooperation with our State partners, we have developed several 
Regional Action Plans (Gulf Coast, Midwest, and Northern Prairie) in 
the central U.S. to implement land management activities that will 
assist in reduction of the MCLG population. Such activities include 
land management, water management, increasing accessibility of State 
and Federal lands to hunters, and development of public outreach 
programs. We do not believe that Regional Action Plans alone can 
achieve MCLG population reduction goals. However, the plans will 
compliment the management alternative chosen as a result of the EIS 
    On February 16, 1999, we published two rules that authorized new 
methods of take for white geese (electronic calls and unplugged 
shotguns; 64 FR 7507), and established a conservation order for the 
reduction of the MCLG population (64 FR 7517). The new regulations were 
made available only to States in the Mississippi and Central Flyways. 
Several animal rights groups subsequently filed a legal challenge to 
the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact upon 
which the implementation of the rules were based. Although the judge 
refused to issue an injunction, he did indicate

[[Page 26270]]

a likelihood that plaintiffs might succeed on their argument that an 
EIS should have been prepared. In order to avoid further litigation, we 
have decided to withdraw those regulations and initiate preparation of 
an EIS. The regulations will be withdrawn in a separate rulemaking 
notice in the Federal Register.


    We are considering the following alternatives as a result of public 
comments received on the Environmental Assessment. After the scoping 
process, we will develop the alternatives to be included in the EIS and 
base them on the mission of the Service and comments received during 
scoping. We are soliciting your comments on issues, alternatives, and 
impacts to be addressed in the EIS.

A. No Action Alternative

    Under the No Action Alternative, no additional regulatory methods 
or direct population control strategies would be authorized. Normal 
white goose hunting regulations that existed prior to February 16, 
1999, would remain in place.

B. New Regulatory Alternatives (Proposed Action)

    This alternative seeks to provide new regulatory options to 
wildlife management agencies that will increase the harvest of white 
geese above that which results from existing hunting frameworks. This 
approach may include legalization of additional hunting methods such as 
electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, expanded shooting hours, and 
baiting. This alternative also includes establishment of a conservation 
order in the U.S. to reduce and/or stabilize white goose populations. A 
conservation order would authorize taking of white geese after the 
normal framework closing date of March 10, through August 31.
    The intent of this alternative is to significantly reduce or 
stabilize white goose populations without threatening their long-term 
health. We are confident that reduction or stabilization efforts will 
not result in populations falling below either the lower management 
thresholds established by Flyway Councils, or the NAWMP population 
objectives. Monitoring and evaluation programs are in place to estimate 
population sizes and will be used to prevent over-harvest of these 

C. Direct Population Control on Wintering and Migration Areas in the 

    This alternative would involve direct population control strategies 
such as trapping and culling programs, market hunting, or other general 
strategies that would result in the killing of white geese on migration 
and/or wintering areas in the U.S. Some of these types of control 
measures could involve disposal of large numbers of carcasses.

D. Seek Direct Population Control on Breeding Grounds by Canada

    This alternative, if successful, would involve direct population 
control strategies, such as trapping and culling programs, market 
hunting, or other general strategies, that would result in killing of 
white geese on breeding colonies in Canada. Some of these types of 
control measures could involve disposal of large numbers of carcasses. 
We do not have the authority to implement direct population control 
measures on migration or breeding areas in Canada. Therefore, this 
alternative would require extensive consultation with Canada in order 
to urge implementation of control measures on breeding areas. Such 
measures may or may not involve active U.S. participation.

Issue Resolution and Environmental Review

    The primary issue to be addressed during the scoping and planning 
process for the EIS is to determine which management alternatives for 
the control of white goose populations will be analyzed. We will 
prepare a discussion of the potential effect, by alternative, which 
will include the following areas:
    (1) White goose populations and their habitats.
    (2) Other bird populations and their habitats.
    (3) Effects on other species of flora and fauna.
    (4) Socioeconomic effects.
    Environmental review of the management action will be conducted in 
accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy 
Act (NEPA), as appropriate. This Notice is being furnished in 
accordance with 40 CFR 1501.7, to obtain suggestions and information 
from other agencies, tribes, and the public on the scope of issues to 
be addressed in the EIS. A draft EIS should be available to the public 
in the fall of 1999.

Public Scoping Meetings

    A schedule of public scoping meeting dates, locations, and times is 
not available at this time. Notice of such meetings will be published 
in the Federal Register.

References Cited

Abraham, K.F., R.L. Jefferies, R.F. Rockwell, and C. D. MacInnes. 
1996. Why are there so many white geese in North America? 7th 
International Waterfowl Symposium, Memphis, TN.
Batt, B.D.J., editor. 1997. Arctic ecosystems in peril: report of 
the Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint Venture 
Special Publication. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC 
and Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario. 120 pp.
Batt, B.D.J., editor. 1998. The greater snow goose: report of the 
Arctic Goose Habitat Working Group. Arctic Goose Joint Venture 
Special Publication. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC 
and Canadian Wildlife Service, Ottawa, Ontario. 88 pp.
Boyd, H., G.E.J. Smith and F.G. Cooch. 1982. The lesser snow goose 
of the eastern Canadian Arctic: their status during 1964-1979 and 
their management from 1982-1990. Canadian Wildlife Service 
Occasional Paper No. 46. 21 pp.
U.S. Department of the Interior, Environment Canada, and Secretaria 
De Desarrollo Social. 1998. 1998 update to the North American 
Waterfowl Management Plan--fulfilling the legacy: expanding the 
vision. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington DC.
USFWS. 1997. Harvest and population survey data book, Central 
Flyway, compiled by D.E. Sharp. Office of Migratory Bird Management, 
Denver, CO. 123 pp.
USFWS. 1998. Waterfowl populations status, 1998. Department of 
Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arlington, VA. 31 pp.

    Authorship. The primary author of this Notice is James R. Kelley, 
Jr., Office of Migratory Bird Management.

    Dated: May 7, 1999.
John G. Rogers,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 99-12141 Filed 5-12-99; 8:45 am]